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It’s been weeks since Robert came home, his scar fading from angry red to pale purple, it’ll take years, if ever, for it to fade to white. He’s been given the all clear from the doctor to resume normal activities too, a slow incline jog on the treadmill while Aaron conditions his body with sprints.

He still hasn’t come anywhere near Aaron.

It’s not avoidance, Aaron decides, as he hands Robert a cup of tea and brushes their fingers together and Robert smiles up at him sweetly before he turns the newspaper page. He doesn’t flinch when Aaron tickles his fingers on the back of his neck either. They also sit huddled up on the settee during the evening, Robert half twisted so he can keep his feet on the floor but still cuddle Aaron against him, so he knows that Robert isn’t in pain.

He’s frankly running out of ideas. He’s never been in a position where he’s had to coax any sort of sexual reaction out of Robert that didn’t involve throwing him against a wall. Light activity was encouraged. Wall slams, probably not. He sighs, frustratedly, and Robert looks up at him from the sofa.

“You okay?”

Aaron nods. It seems so simple. Just give him a kiss, a peck, something and just work from there. They’ve traded innocent kisses everyday since he left the hospital. There’s just never…more.

It’s like a rubber band that’s been pulled so tight in Aaron and it just has to snap. He pushes away his cup and walks over to where Robert’s sitting, taking away his paper, throwing it god knows where, and pressing his lips against Robert’s shocked ones. There’s an escaped moan from Robert, and Aaron pushes further, nudging at his shoulder so that he lies back and Aaron can get over him on his knees.

“I love you.” Aaron tells him. Robert blinks like Aaron’s gone mental, but his hands still gently curl and flex against Aaron’s hips. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Robert’s face falls. Aaron kisses him again, barest of touches, a tiny lick at his lips to encourage him.

He takes Aaron’s hand and places it against his side, over his scar. It’s healing, but ugly and jagged, and Aaron feels so stupid for not realising it. Robert can’t change the dressings on his own and had screwed his eyes shut every time Aaron has had to help him.

“Oh,” is all that comes out of him. Robert looks down, but Aaron doesn’t let him for long, his hand coming up to raise his chin. “I thought you didn’t want me. Like before.”

Robert comes up so fast that they bump chests, “No, god, Aaron. I always want you.”

He pulls Aaron down for a heated kiss, like he could press all of his apologies into Aaron’s mouth.

“It’s a reminder for both of us of something I’d rather forget.” He whispers as they part.

Aaron doesn’t let them break from this in between space, where he breathes and then Robert breathes, and it’s like they’re one person.

“It brought you home.”

Like locks on a chest, they fall away. Robert’s hands band around Aaron’s back as he lies back and takes Aaron with him, his face tucked up in Aaron’s neck with wet kisses against his throat. Aaron braces his hand at the back of Robert’s head, rubbing back and forth as he sucks Aaron’s blood to the surface of his skin. After so long it’s all too much, Aaron’s barely breathing and rocking his hips in long movements, Robert’s knees coming up behind him to help press their groins closer together.

Robert bites him, and Aaron can’t help but give up a cry, grabbing at Robert’s bicep before pulling him away to bring their mouths together again. Robert’s is slick and hot, and Aaron loves every minute of it when he thrusts into his mouth and they curl together like they’ve never been apart. But Robert gentles him. Strokes ease patterns into his back as he slides Aaron’s shirt off of him. Aaron decides not to faff, he pushes Robert’s hands away before he unbuttons both of their jeans, shoving their underwear aside so that they can touch skin on skin. Robert bites his lips, his hips coming away from the settee and pushing Aaron up, but he rides him down, pinning him with heavier thighs and a strong grip.

“Aaron,” Robert breathes as he turns his head away, clearly overwhelmed.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you.” Aaron reassures him. He’s always going to have him now, like this, like everything.

Their bodies rock and pulse, and Robert sobs hard once when he comes and Aaron swallows anything else he might say with his mouth. Long fingers slide in the open gap at the back of his jeans and simply grip his arse, and it tips Aaron into his orgasm, painting Robert’s shirt with it. There’s a satisfaction in Robert’s face when he watches Aaron come. Everything is made good.

They both ignore the cooling wetness as Robert pulls him down for a cuddle, after a slow breathy kiss, head resting on his chest.

Robert runs his fingers through Aaron’s curls, “I’m sorry.”

Aaron manages to stop his tears as pin pricks of emotion behind his eyes. Robert’s here, and they’re okay.

“Doesn’t matter.” And it’s true.

Aaron wraps his arms around Robert that bit tighter and lets himself just be. ‘cause it’s finally now that Robert has come home at all.

Chapter Text

1. It’s never how you want to be seen by your family, but especially not your little sister. Thankfully, everything is covered by the duvet, Robert hiding his face in the pillow, the breadth of his shoulders peeking out, and Aaron is left open mouthed above him.

“I did knock.” Liv tells them, not really traumatised either way.

That makes Robert laugh, which doesn’t help Aaron at all, which he then makes ten times worse when he pinches Robert’s bum and it makes him chuckle harder.

He gets himself together long enough to say to Liv: “Give us a minute, then we’ll help you find your P.E. kit.”

Liv snorts, “Only a minute?”

Robert gets a slap on thigh for how hard he creases after that. Aaron is utterly mortified and moves to get up, but Robert grabs him by his hip.

“Don’t you dare stop.”

 

 

2. Robert doesn’t know what it is about the pub toilets, whether it’s the enclosed space or the tingle of fear of being discovered, but he almost always ends up trying to have it off with Aaron in them a couple of times a month.

They’re in one of the stalls, Aaron pressed up against the door while Robert takes him into his throat in incrementally deeper drags. His hair is a mess from how much Aaron is pulling on it, his trousers have the start of a wet spot, when he hears the outer door go. Aaron hears it too because he freezes, hips no longer rocking but painfully still.

It’s Marlon humming to himself, along with a clink of a belt buckle and a steady stream.

Aaron is looking down at Robert with concerned eyes. Robert makes an executive decision, Aaron’s dick is still in his mouth, he carries on as if nothing has happened. Aaron, on the other hand, grabs at his hair hard, and tries to pull him away, but he won’t be moved. Aaron’s forced to shove his curled fist in his mouth and choke on his own moans until the sink and hand dryer have been and gone and the door slams shut.

It’s surprising how quickly Aaron comes after that.

They sort themselves out, Robert dabbing at his trousers before he comes out and is collared by Chas.

She looks at him in a strange cross between shock, anger and resignation: “Marlon could see your feet.”

Robert likes their time together in the cubicles so when he goes back out, he doesn’t tell Aaron what his mum said.

 

 

3. Charity seems to have a radar for any time Aaron steps within 10 feet of Robert for a bit of alone time. She’s been working the bar, it’s late, and they’ve turned off all the lights, and thankfully she hasn’t turned them back on because Robert is balls deep inside him on the sofa.

He doesn’t stop the tiny hitches of his hips either, so Aaron is left biting Robert’s arm, both of them pressed together chest to groin, in the hopes he won’t be the one to give them away.

Luckily, she grabs a glass of water in the dark and makes her way up to bed. Aaron lets out a sigh of relief until she flicks the light that turns on the ones to the kitchen and living room.

“You can at least see what you’re doing now.”

 

 

4. “Jesus, Vic!”

Robert grabs the nearest thing to him, a tea towel from the table Aaron had him on, and chucks it over himself as Aaron turns his back, his bum glorious in the afternoon sun, but totally inappropriate.

Vic covers her eyes with her hand, “It’s a kitchen, Robert! In the middle of the day.”

Robert is caught between unfulfilled desire, embarrassment and a tiny bit of anger.

“Yeah, it’s also our kitchen, in our home!”

It’s one of the few times that they don’t resume their ‘activities’. Vic needs help with her van and Aaron wasn’t in the office when she came to look.

Everyone calms down, Robert making his sister a tea before he puts it on a coaster. In the living room.

Vic herself is a lot calmer, “Plus, it’s not like it’s anything I haven’t seen anyway.”

Robert practically throws her out after that.

 

 

5. After several near misses, Aaron decides to take Robert on a drive. The weather’s decent and there’s enough room in Robert’s car for some creative contortion.

Or it would have been, if the coppers hadn’t pulled them over when Aaron got his hand inside Robert’s trousers. Nothing too distracting, foreplay really, but it’s a quick shuffle to sort themselves out, game faces on.

Apparently, Robert’s break light has gone out in the 10 minutes they’ve been driving and they should get it sorted in the next couple of days. It’s pleasant enough, but it does feel like there’s a conspiracy surrounding them any time they get close.

Robert sighs like his entire will to live is leaving his body, “We’re never having sex ever again, are we?”

 

 

+ 1. Robert is determined. He has booked a weekend in York, on the off chance that Aaron actually wants to leave the hotel room and see some culture, but he is 100% determined that they are going to have so much uninterrupted sex that he isn’t going to be able to walk for the three days that follow it.

Aaron has popped back for lunch from the yard and is making himself a brew in the kitchen when Robert comes in to tell him about it.

“So, whadda ya think?” He asks.

Aaron smiles at him, only it’s a little bit sly and a little bit smug.

“I’ve got something better.”

Robert frowns, “I don’t know, crisp white bed sheets and no one to bother us sounds pretty amazing.”

Aaron offers Robert his hand, lacing their fingers together when Robert takes it. He’s led upstairs to their room, entirely unchanged since this morning.

No.

Not entirely unchanged.

There’s a pristine new lock screwed into the door and frame. Aaron and Chas had had constant fights about it, her pub her rules, Aaron being a grown man, but Robert figures that enough was enough.

It’s honestly the best aphrodisiac he’s been given.

“Take your kit off right now.”

Aaron’s biting his lip. Yeah, he knew what he was getting when he set this up. The lock snicks shut and Robert doesn’t even bother with taking more than his jacket and belt off, pulling off Aaron’s hi-vis and snapping open his work trousers before he shoves him face down on the bed, arse up for Robert to work. He reaches blindly in the drawer for the lube and hurries his fingers inside, one to begin with, two, when Aaron is rocking back on him with increasing speed. Robert pushes his trousers off his hips, slicks himself up as best he can without tipping himself over, and pulls Aaron’s hips towards him so that his bum is right in front of him.

He strokes his non-sticky hand down Aaron’s thigh, “hey.”

Aaron turns his head back, lip still bitten in between his teeth, red and probably swollen, and he nods. “Yeah.”

Robert eases himself in, and the moment that Aaron starts to roll his hips, testing the waters, he starts to thrust. It’s like lapping water between them, ebbing and flowing, increasing their pleasure until Robert plasters himself to Aaron’s back and snaps his hips against his arse while he feels Aaron rubbing himself underneath him. Robert’s breath devolves into pants as his body tightens and releases, pushing him forward, so far that he and Aaron collapse into the bed. Aaron’s orgasm follows on from his and leaves him twitching, toes curling, as his hand continues to work everything out of him.

They lay there for a good ten minutes, until everything is crusty and disgusting, because they can. Because not one person is going to bother them. Not if they don’t want them to.

Robert disengages himself with as little discomfort to Aaron as possible: “You’re a genius. I love you.”

Aaron rolls onto his back, ignoring the wet patch he has definitely made, his face still as smug as before Robert drilled him into the bed, “Day’s not over yet.”

No. It isn’t

Chapter Text

Robert shrugs off what he says like it’s a joke, but Aaron isn’t buying it. He can see how hurt he is by Diane’s comments. How easily she sides with everyone but Robert. It’s the same with all of them though. Robert is an easy target who won’t fight back because he thinks he deserves it. He thinks there is a limitless amount of shit he has to endure before anyone will care about him the way he deserves. The way he does about them; freely and without conditions.

Aaron grabs Robert by his elbow, pulling him up as he stands. Robert is startled, “Aaron…?”

“We need to go.” Aaron tells him.

Diane looks confused, Vic is frowning and Adam remains passive, not siding with Aaron, but suspects why he’s so agitated.

Robert looks at him, he knows that if he tells Aaron to stay, he will, but he’s offering him an out from this farce of a Sunday family dinner. He looks down at his plate and Aaron’s heart breaks for him. He suddenly looks how he looks when they’re alone and he speaks in hushed tones about how much it hurt to be alone.

“Let me grab my coat.” Robert announces. Vic looks like she’s about to start, but Aaron stares her down. Diane is still somewhat oblivious to the ruckus she’s caused, but in her kindly hostess manner, she asks them if there’s anything she can do.

Aaron shakes his head, “No, ta, we’ve just got some bits that need sorting before we pop and see me sister.”

It’s a lie, but she doesn’t need to know that.

Robert has Aaron’s puffer jacket in hand, his already on as he thanks Diane and Vic for the meal, nodding towards Adam, before he lets Aaron guide him out with a hand on his back to steady him.

It’s not long after they get out of the door that Robert lets out a shaky breath. Aaron rubs his arms, to put warmth into them and to comfort him.

“I wasn’t–” Robert starts and stops.

“I wasn’t always like this. I was…”

Aaron stops him with a gentle kiss, a peck that lasts, before he gathers Robert up in a hug. He knows there is nothing he can say that will change Robert’s mind, that will soften the metal rod that he beats himself with because he’s so used to the pain, so all he does instead is show him that he’s loved too. For whatever faults he has, and thinks he has, Aaron wouldn’t change him for a hundred different men.

Chapter Text

His palms are sweating, he feels sick and Robert is looking at him like he’s never seen him before, and still, Aaron stands there and hopes.

Robert is shaking his head. His face is a picture of disbelief.

It’s been too long. I waited too long. I hurt him too much.

“I love you.”

It just tumbles out of his mouth like the fast beating of his heart pushed it out and it can’t be taken back.

“Aaron…”

Here it comes. The but.

He screws his eyes shut, he doesn’t need to see Robert’s face for this. To see the exact shape of the mouth that used to speak tender words to him turn and twist into what will truly end him.

Robert’s hand touches his cheek, Aaron opens his eyes.

“I love you too.” Robert whispers before he ducks his head and kisses Aaron’s mouth, strong and firm. Doubtless.

They’re still trading soft kisses when the first flake falls. Aaron feels it on his cheek when he pulls away, face tilted upwards. Robert is smiling as he holds his hand out for it.

His other arm is wrapped around Aaron’s waist, “Merry Christmas.”

Merry Christmas.

Chapter Text

Aaron has been pushing this dog thing for weeks. Robert gets it in single attacks from both Aaron and Liv, and then a double assault at the dinner table. He’s managed to hold firm until now, but the promise of his husband in a suit really is a deal worth considering.

There’s a tense moment because Aaron knows he has Robert over a barrel and Liv is staring at him with bated breath. Clearly she’s been in on the plan since its conception, was probably the one who insisted on it. He’s almost proud of their ingenuity. He still doesn’t want a dog, though.

Robert has to school his face as Aaron’s hand touches his knee and slides, not into dangerous territory, Liv is still at the table, but he knows what he’s inciting.

“Your wedding suit.” He counters. Aaron falls back in mild surprise. “I want you to wear your black wedding suit.”

Robert had new ones made for their vow renewal, but he has always loved and will always love that first suit. It was one of the very few that Aaron had that fit, cutting across the width of his shoulders, down the length of his spine…it took a beautiful man and made the world see him like it. Robert can’t wait to see that version of him again.

Regardless, Aaron isn’t happy about it, he hates suits at the best of times, but he agrees. Liv lets out exactly 0.4 seconds of squealing joy before she shuts her mouth and goes back to eating her cereal.

She lasts another 3 seconds before she asks, “What kind of dog should we get?”

***

The dinner portion was fine, Aaron made his way through with only the minimum amount of glare as well as one inadvertent eff you to the knob trying to get up himself because he thinks his business is so much more successful than Aaron’s. It’s the milling about now that he’s struggling with. Old ladies keep trying to feel up his arms and ask him about investment potential and he’s lost sight of Robert. He’s drowning and he doesn’t have a dingy.

Until he does.

Robert offers him a glass of champagne, which he takes, taking a sip before he sighs.

“Little while longer then we can go,” Robert reassures him with a hand on his elbow.

‘Tina’, or Mrs Mason to people who aren’t Aaron, is eyeing them up as she puts two and two together and her smile actually widens. Aaron thinks he might actually be sick.

Robert must see how green he is because he takes Aaron’s glass and puts it on a tray with his own, thanking the server, before taking his hand to lead him out into the cooler air of the foyer.

“I can’t do it. They’re just so stuck up, Rob.” Aaron breathes as he lets his head drop forward onto Robert’s collarbone. “We won’t get the dog.”

Robert laughs softly and rubs Aaron’s back, “We’ll get the dog. You can just make it up to me.”

And he does. In the limo, with the privacy screen up and Robert’s tie stuffed into his own mouth because never in his life has he learned to be quiet.

Robert’s chest is still flush when Aaron sits next to him on the plush leather seats. He’s not saying anything, his eyes just traveling the length of Aaron’s body, as if he could will himself to go again he would find what he sees as his inspiration.

“You really do love me in a suit, don’t you?”

There’s a twitch of Robert’s lips in a smile, “My dirty little grease monkey made good. Just like me, but better”

That makes Aaron laugh but also fills up his heart in all the right ways, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Aaron doesn’t see any problem with him setting himself up with a little beamer. It wouldn’t even cost that much because it would be outright rather than on finance, and it would be 100% his own cash. Except Robert hasn’t stopped throwing a hissy fit since he first mentioned it. 

“Okay, so what’s your problem with BMWs?” Aaron ends up asking him, straight up, as they carpool to the portacabin.

Robert narrows his eyes like ‘not this again’.

“You’re a mechanic, you know how many times you have to fix one of them in a year. It’s not cost effective.”

Aaron scoffs, “I know it’s not ‘cost effective’, but it’s my money and I’ll buy it if I want to.”

Robert sighs, “Aaron.”

“No. I’m not a child, I don’t need to be told what to do.” He slams the door of the Porsche, Robert’s extortionate pride and joy, and knows without looking that Robert winces.

Aaron cools off after a cup of tea and a biscuit, and Robert finally slopes into the office, not actually coming in earlier because of their fight, his metaphorical hat in his hand.

“It’s not about the money, Aaron. I want you to be safe. Sure, you get into a crash and you’ll probably play bumper cars with the other cars, but something goes wrong? You lose control of the wheel? I can’t–”

Aaron stands up and walks around his desk to where Robert’s standing, takes his hand and lets them hang jointly between them.

“I know how to keep myself safe, Robert.”

Robert turns his head like he’s still upset but there’s nothing he can say that will change Aaron’s mind, and that’s true.

“I said I wanted you sticking around until you’re 80, do you think for a second I’m gonna leave you alone for all that? Huh? Nah, we’ll be in matching slippers arguing about this beamer then. Promise ya.”

Robert tugs Aaron’s hand and he lets himself be pulled for a kiss. It makes them both smile and Robert seems somewhat mollified by Aaron’s answer. His face perks up, almost too brightly:

“You don’t make it to 80, Aaron, I’ll kill you myself.”

Chapter Text

Robert would feel a lot better if Aaron wasn’t making it sound like he had asked him to face a firing squad, but he has to take what he can get.

Their new tub at The Mill was made for baths like the one he’s suggesting. The depth alone outweighs the one in the pub. Plus he even went with Liv to Lush and picked out a couple of bath bombs and bubble bars that were inoffensive enough that he could probably work Aaron around to.

“You dip yourself in water everyday, Aaron, it shouldn’t be that shocking.” Robert throws back, feeling somewhat defensive.

Aaron looks at him, his eyes assessing in the way that he does before he gives Robert a minute nod.

“Alright. Tonight then.”

***

There’s no glitter thankfully, Aaron is happy to note. It smells nice, fresh, and when he puts his hand in the water, it makes it feel soft and silky. Robert has already stripped off and is getting into the ‘hot but not melting hot’ water.

“Come on. Sooner in, sooner out.”

He makes a face, but takes his clothes off anyway. He’s been lulled into a false sense of security anyway because Robert has poured his favourite glass of bubbles, his secret guilty pleasure, and a glass of red for himself and left them on the window sill.

Aaron steps in, ignores how his blood naturally heats up with the water and sits in front of Robert, his back to Robert’s chest.

“Whadda we do now?” He asks, not really sure what he’s supposed to do if he isn’t washing himself.

Robert hugs him around his middle, hooking his chin over his shoulder, “You relax.”

So he leans back, his toes gently drift up and out of the water and it makes him laugh because he can’t remember the last time he felt that weightlessness to his body. Robert lets him go, lays his arms over top Aaron’s and lets their palms rub together when Aaron turns his hands over.

“Not terrible?” Robert asks.

Aaron smiles, “No.”

“Good, ‘cause this is only the first one.”

Aaron raises his brows, “Oh, so there are more?”

Robert nods, his chin brushing the back of Aaron’s neck. “There are all kinds. Bath bombs, bubble bars, fancy gels, all sorts.”

It’s also at this time that Robert’s hand slips back into the water, first on Aaron’s knee and then skating on his thigh.

“There are more types too: relaxing, healing, fun…”

Fingertips trace the crease of his hip and thigh, and Aaron can’t help give a little jerk at the touch.

Robert’s voice is husky when he whispers, “depends” in Aaron’s ear.

His body doesn’t need the encouragement as he traps Robert’s hand high on his thigh. Robert kisses the wet skin of his neck, sucking the water droplets there.

“Shame this isn’t that kind of bath.”

Aaron stills. He can’t be promised what he’s been promised with Robert’s fingers to be denied.

“Robert.” Aaron’s lets his voice drip with frustration.

Robert must be feeling kind as his hand travels further up and grazes over him. Aaron’s view is obscured by bubbles, but he sees the water ripple as Robert starts to stroke him. Aaron closes his eyes, rocking his hips back against Robert before his other hand comes to press on Aaron’s belly to hold him still. It’s harder like this, Aaron just has to accept what Robert gives him. Every touch of his fingers builds on the pleasure laid on by the one before it. Aaron huffs as his body starts to coil want in his balls, every part of him needing, pushing, to move, but trapped between Robert’s body and his hands.

Lips dance against his throat and shoulder now, a second point of sensation that has Aaron lolling his head to the side as he grips the edge of the tub. It’s almost calming how easy this is, how his body eventually tightens as much as it can before spilling over, soft moans falling out of his mouth. He shudders and his body melts almost boneless in the warm water.

Aaron reaches for Robert, only to be denied.

“It was a relaxing bath, Aaron.”

He stops. Robert’s right. Every bit of tension he held in his body is gone. He does turn his body enough so that he can grab hold of the back of Robert’s neck as he pushes his tongue inside his mouth, tasting the sips of wine he had while drawing the bath.

They get out and shower off remnants of their bath and Aaron presses Robert against the shower wall, hands just as light as Robert’s until he’s almost at his peak.Then Aaron’ twists his fingers, thumb pressing against the head, just the way Robert likes and letting his release coat his stomach and wash away into the drain.

Clean trackies and a t-shirt later, they snuggle up on the sofa for the Grand Tour and Aaron nudges Robert’s head with his nose where he’s lying on Aaron’s chest:

“We should do that again soon. Maybe a fun one.”

Robert smiles against Aaron’s chest, “Definitely a fun one.”

Chapter Text

Sometimes Robert thinks it’s harder for Aaron to believe that it’s true, despite everything. With her head of dark hair, bright blue eyes, cute onesie keeping her wrapped up warm, she’s the joy that they had known they wanted, but didn’t know how much it would actually be until she came. Robert had insisted that they either adopt, or that she be Aaron’s biologically. He had the amount of biological children he’ll ever need. And to look at her, the picture of her daddy’s smile, Robert knows that they made the right choice.

It also means that Aaron is constantly watching his face, looking for signs of distress, or old wounds being opened. It’s true, there is a pain in Robert’s heart at the loss, but it doesn’t change how much he loves his daughter. How his son had shown him, for the brief time he was here, who Robert could be, for him and for her. It’s like everything got saved up ready, waiting, for this tiny person to be apart of their lives.

“She’s so big.” Aaron whispers as she wriggles in her sleep. “Can’t she be smaller again, Rob?”

Robert presses a kiss to the side of his husband’s head. “Sadly not. I just wonder who she’ll be this year.”

“Mechanic?” Aaron throws out with a smile.

“Prime Minister, thank you.” Robert laughs as he nudges Aaron’s cheek with his nose.

“Happy.” Aaron decides.

Robert rubs his hand over his daughter’s soft rounded tummy, and agrees, “Happy.”

Chapter Text

Aaron’s stomach drops. It just fell out of his mouth. “Can you pass me the milk please, babe?”

Robert is looking at him, half surprise and slowly spreading into smug. “Am I your babe now? Your honey?”

“Oh sod off, ya dick.” Aaron huffs, clanging around in the kitchen with plates and bowls while he tries to get his heart under control.

“Hey,” Robert comes up behind Aaron, arms wrapping around his waist, kiss tucked into his neck as he reaches for a mug. “I love that you called me that.”

Aaron tries to deny the flush that’s spreading under his skin, it’s one part embarrassment, two parts proximity. He tilts his head and gives Robert better access while he dumps a tea bag in with some sugar. Robert’s tongue flicks against his throat before he gives it a nip and a kiss, his fingers tightening at Aaron’s waist.

“If I’m your babe, what does that make you for me?”

Robert lets his lips brush, but not touch, Aaron’s ear, the curve of his jaw and over his lips when Aaron turns his head.

His voice is soft, “Baby? No. Not honey either.”

Aaron can feel Robert’s lips move over his mouth, it takes all his will not to just lean forward and kiss him.

“Sweetheart? Yeah, I think I like that. You’re so good to me.”

Robert leans his hips against Aaron’s and holds him still to him. He can’t help but give a little roll as Robert licks the seam of his mouth, easing his way inside. It’s slow and warm and Robert’s hand travels up Aaron’s chest to hold him back with a hand over his heart.

The door slams, book bags are dropped and the moment’s gone. Robert eases off Aaron, gently brushes him down as if he just messed him up other than internally.

There’s another peck on his lips before Robert leaves, “See ya later, sweetheart.”

Chapter Text

Robert’s been in the portacabin looking after last minute paperwork, avoiding Lawrence actually, when the heat went out and he was forced to make his own warmth. Aaron’s jacket had hung familiar on the back of the door. Robert had hesitated, his fingers almost touching it but not quite, as if it was only smoke and mirrors and it would disappear before he grasped it.

Robert schools himself, taking it tight in his hand. It comes off the hook with ease, only he notices it’s weighted on one side, his hand slipping into the right pocket only to come back with his own watch.

He’s been looking for it for months. Aaron had assured him that if he found it, he would give Robert a call. He knows how much Robert likes this watch. It was one of the first luxuries he ever bought himself when he made it on his own, and it does surprise him when he finds it lying in Aaron’s coat like it lives there.

He holds it up between them like an accusation when he sees him later that day.

“Aaron?”

Robert’s looking directly at Aaron, whose eyes are flitting between him and the floor.

“Must a picked it up on my way to work. Forgot about it, didn’t I?”

It’s flimsy, made worse by his husband’s blatant refusal to look him in the eye.

“Did you keep it?” Robert asks, his air constricted while he waits for what he hopes is a yes.

Aaron scowls at him, “Why would I? I don’t need some poncy watch, that’s what phones are for.”

Everything logical tells him that Aaron is right. Why would he need Robert’s watch when he’s permanently attached to his phone? But his heart, his stupid, hopeful heart, wants to believe that there is something still there.

“Fine. Thanks for keeping it safe.” Robert slips it on his wrist.

Aaron keeps his eyes on Robert’s watch, doesn’t look up until it’s back under Robert’s shirt and out of his view by Robert’s side. He swallows thickly and Robert wants to touch him. He wants it more than anything.

“Well that’s it then.” His mouth stretches into a painful smile. It’s the best he can do.

Aaron nods, “Yeah, it is.”

Robert returns the gesture. “Bye.”

He didn’t think it was possible to get your heart torn out of your chest more than once, but Aaron does it to him daily. Every moment they’re not together is a stab that he deserves but cannot bear. But he had better get used it, hadn’t he? Because that’s all there is.

Chapter Text

Robert catches him on his way back from lunch. He’s got his watch in his hand, outstretched like he’s either going to give it to Aaron, or take it away.

Aaron wants to grab it. Stuff it back into his pocket and never let it see the light of day, but it’s there. In the open, like the seam on a teddy bear that has unpicked itself and is exposing its innards.

“Must a picked it up on my way to work. Forgot about it, didn’t I?” 

His own reasoning is weak. He’s losing it, he can feel it. Robert is going to take the last part of him he has and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Robert’s face is so hopeful, eyes bright as he asks him: “Did you keep it?”

Nothing has changed though. Rebecca is still pregnant and he still doesn’t want any part of it.

“Why would I? I don’t need some poncy watch, that’s what phones are for.”

It’s like shutters go down, the light goes out and Robert stops letting him in.

“Fine. Thanks for keeping it safe.” 

Robert’s putting the band back on his wrist and Aaron has to stop his hand moving to take it back. It’s mine, the solitary part of his heart cries. It’s where he keeps the love he feels for Robert locked up safe, away from everything else he feels so that it can stay pure. Unchanged.

“Well that’s it then.”

He has to agree. There’s nothing else he can do. “Yeah, it is.”

“Bye.” Robert is dismissive. Almost cold. Aaron feels the chill in his bones. He was getting used to it, being alone. He has Liv, and his mum, and Adam. He also had this one piece of Robert that would never leave. Never walk away. Never find him lacking. He takes the rest of the day off and bests Liv at Halo to try and fill up the hole inside him. It’s unchanged, and in the shape of a watch.

Chapter Text

“Ow! You know you’re not actually a vampire, Robert.” Aaron says as he tries to wriggle out from where Robert has him trapped under him on the bed. He’s dressed up as Dracula for Halloween, complete with cape, fake blood and teeth. He has also taken to ‘practising’ on Aaron with his fake teeth whenever he can.

Robert softly kisses the skin that he just abused and rubs his thumb against it. Aaron tilts his head, trying to understand the soft look on his husband’s face.

“Rob?”

He ignores Aaron’s question and kisses the other side of Aaron’s neck, licking softly at the skin before nipping it with plastic.

“Okay, ow, get off.” Aaron pushes at Robert’s sides, but gets his wrists trapped for his trouble, firstly by his sides, and then Robert slides them up to either side of his head. It spikes Aaron’s pulse as Robert’s chest lays across him, heavier and more present than before. Robert’s tongue flicks out and underneath the plastic of the teeth and they drop over Aaron’s shoulder on the bed before he dips his head to nip at the skin of Aaron’s Adam’s apple.

They really don’t have time for this. They should have been at the pub Halloween party an hour ago, but there was a problem with the shower, sorted now, but it had screwed up everyone’s schedule. Read: Liv being more important than everyone and having to go first. Yet, Aaron manages to get his legs out from under Robert’s and hook them around the back of his calves, rubbing their ankles together even when Robert bites him again.

“Ah!” Aaron tries to reason with him, “Rob, we don’t have time.”

Robert drags his nose against Aaron’s skin, his lips soft as they follow until they press up under his jaw. Aaron is forced to tip his head back. It stretches the line of his throat, Robert’s tongue tracing the tendon before he bites it bluntly. Aaron can’t help but flex his hands. It’s a warm sort of pleasure that Robert is building inside him. Calm, like the kiss that follows it. A tiny kitten lick as he moves to the fleshier bit of his throat and he kisses that too.

“I think I could do it.” Robert muses, “Turn you into a creature of the night.”

Aaron laughs, “You what…”

Robert bites the tendon again, but this time harder. The strength of it shoves sensations into Aaron’s belly and his knees ride up against Robert’s ribs as he moans, unexpectedly. He’s wearing a scratchy pirates costume that’s rubbing against his nipples as he pulls his bottom lip over his teeth.

One of the hands holding Aaron’s wrists moves to cup the inside of his thigh, high, but not quite where Aaron would like it. He twines his fingers into Robert’s hair as Robert laves the muscle, trying to soothe the bite. His lips come up for a kiss and Aaron gives him all he’s worth, mouth hot and tongue pressing, as Robert drags himself away. The air gets heavy with their pants, Aaron trying to recapture Robert’s mouth, but he pulls himself too far back and Aaron can’t move while he’s on his chest. Robert bypasses his mouth completely and tucks back into the side of his neck, sucking pressure on the softer skin, taking it into his mouth tight so that it will come up in a dark purpling bruise. Aaron can’t help but curl his toes and roll his hips. Robert’s hand skates up over his seam and slides into the satin-y fabric of his rented trousers, holding him with strong fingers. His hips give another involuntary thrust and Robert turns his suction into a warning pinch.

Aaron tugs on Robert’s hair and gets him up for another warm kiss as Robert’s fingers move. It doesn’t take long for Aaron’s body to bind and twist itself until he’s clutching Robert’s body between his knees, his back arching, and he’s shuddering back down onto the bed. Robert kisses his collarbone where it’s peeking out of the low neck of his pirate shirt before he rolls onto his side, letting Aaron’s chest heave unencumbered.

The trousers are ruined, despite Robert’s careful attempt at removing his hand from Aaron’s underwear, the come patch soaking through. Aaron wants to be mad, but he has too many feel good hormones coursing through his body.

Aaron rolls his head to the side to look at Robert, “You’d make a terrible vampire.”

Robert snorts, “Why?”

“No mirrors, you vain prat.”

Chapter Text

Robert likes Sunday mornings best. Aaron doesn’t have anywhere to be, he’s generally had a drink the night before, and so he’s just…soft. He comes easily into the space of Robert’s side and armpit, tucking his head up on Robert’s shoulder and rubbing his face on the soft t-shirt Robert’s wearing. He doesn’t think Aaron even opened his eyes when Robert had tugged him by his elbow to roll over.

He is absolutely mad, but Robert strokes his index finger down the side of Aaron’s face, tracing the curve of his eyebrow, down his cheekbone and under his jaw. Robert knows he is soppy sod and he doesn’t care. He never gets to just stare at Aaron like this. Aaron would never let him. But he just loves the planes of his face, the genuine beauty there. People would call Aaron handsome, sure, but it would never do justice to the softness or clarity that exists there too.

“Are you being daft?” Aaron mumbles, spit seeping out a bit onto Robert’s tee. He wipes his mouth like it isn’t a forty quid Ralph Lauren t-shirt, and his hand comes up to rub Robert’s belly in the way he finds oddly soothing. Just another quirk that Robert finds adorable in his husband.

“No.”

Aaron manages to peel his eyes open. Well, one and it’s squinting a bit.

“Mmm, so you are. What is it this time?”

Robert smiles and turns his head away, “Nothing.”

Aaron properly opens his eyes now, cornflower blue in the sunlight, “You are literally the weirdest bloke I’ve ever met.”

Completely ignoring both of their morning breaths, Robert gives Aaron a slow kiss to try and reflect all that he feels when he looks at him. It falls short. It always does.

“I just…really love you.”

Aaron quirks an eyebrow at him and Robert thinks he’s ruined it. He’s pushed the sentimentality too hard and Aaron is going to get up and shower to get away from it. He doesn’t. He snuggles back down, arm around Robert’s waist.

“I suppose we could stay here five more minutes,” Aaron tells him.

Robert’s heart really does swell inside his chest, he can feel it pressed against his ribs. He just really loves Sunday mornings.

Chapter Text

Robert can’t contain his panic. His stomach is trying to regurgitate itself through his throat as he holds his arm over his nose. If he can get to the kitchen he can wet a couple of tea towels.

It’s so damn hot.

He manages to get the towels, two, that’s all that was there, and he holds one over his face and gets low on the ground.

“Aaron! Liv!”

Nothing.

His heart is going the same way as his stomach. He feels sick, he’s sweating and he can’t see for the smoke.

“Liv?! Come on. Aaron!”

He hears scratching. At least he thinks he does. He flies up the stairs as quick as he can, he still doesn’t know where the fire is coming from. Just that there is waves and waves of thick heat pressing on him wherever he goes.

Aaron’s door is open. He checks inside, his heart rises and drops. He’s there, he’s trapped under one of the stupid heavy aesthetic cabinets, but he’s okay. He’s alive.

“Liv!” He’s crying out, Robert tries to shift the cabinet but Aaron is looking at him wildly, “She’s asleep. She doesn’t know. God. Please.”

“It’s okay, Aaron, we’ll get her.”

The cabinet is pressing down Aaron and he can’t move to help Robert free him.

Aaron grabs at his trouser leg, “No, Rob, get her now. Please. Please don’t let my sister die.”

He’s crying. The wetness tracking through the soot on his face.

There’s nothing he can say.

He gives Aaron the other tea towel, brushing the sweat damp curls off his forehead. “Just stay calm, I’m coming back for you.”

Liv’s room is locked. Robert bangs on it but she doesn’t answer. He shoves his shoulder into the door above the handle. It doesn’t budge. It takes him another couple of shoulder breaking shoves before he gets it open. She’s still in bed, her head lolling to the side. He covers her face with his other tea towel, scooping her up.

He shouts back to Aaron, “I got her. I’m taking her outside.”

It’s rough terrain with the curvature of the stairs, but he tucks Liv in close to his body, protecting her face.

He tries shaking her but she still won’t wake up. He gets her outside and lays her down on the path. People are filtering in now to see what’s going on. Robert catches sight of Vic shoving her way through the crowd.

“Aaron’s still in there! Watch her please!” Robert shouts before she even gets to him to tell him her objections.

It’s worse now. The smoke is so much thicker and his towel is basically dry, he stays on his belly as much he can until he reaches Aaron. He’s not conscious anymore and Robert can’t help the broken sob that comes out of him.

“Aaron! Wake up!”

He slaps at his face, it’s no good. He can’t help how his breathing changes, heaving as he tries to stop the flow of tears. He can’t lose Aaron. Not like this. Not like Mum.

Robert gets his hands under Aaron’s shoulders and starts dragging him out. It’s slow but he makes progress. He feels lighter with every step he gets further towards the door. He looks down, checking on Aaron, his chest isn’t moving.

“No. No no no. No. No.”

He drops to his knees, pulls the fabric off his nose, and starts blowing air into Aaron’s mouth and pressing on his chest until he feels lightheaded and sleepy.

Robert sways, putting his hand on the carpet: “I love you. I’m sorry, and I love you.”

He presses a soft kiss to Aaron’s lax mouth and he lays down next to him. He saved Liv. It’s something. He saved Liv.

 

 

Robert wakes up in hospital the next day, groggy and with an oxygen mask on. Vic sitting by his bedside.

“You idiot. You could have died!” She slaps his chest as she rails at him for his stupidity.

“It was Aaron, Vic. And Liv.”

Vic nods, her eyes wet, “And what about me? What if I had lost you?”

He gathers her up on a cuddle and brushes her hair down like she’s a little girl again.

“I’m sorry. I just…I saw the fire and I didn’t…I couldn’t let what happened to Mum happen to them.” It all comes out in a rush and Robert feels both better and raw at the same time.

“I know. But I lost Mum too, Rob. I can’t lose you. You’re my big brother.” Vic wipes her eyes and hugs him tight once more before she sits back down. “Aaron won’t be out for a few days, smoke inhalation, but he said when you’re free to go and see him. Liv too.”

Robert nods, his tongue thick in his mouth. He didn’t help them as a way in. He just couldn’t bear the thought of losing them.

“Take the chance, Robert, talk to him. He obviously wants to talk to you.”

He remembers the heat and the burning smell, and how it’s all bound up in things that end. Maybe now it means that things are burning for something new. He hopes. In and amongst the fire, he hopes

Chapter Text

 

Aaron knows that Robert likes to wind Liv up by doing obnoxiously couple-y things and dragging her along to bear witness, but he’s actually pretty excited to go to this display with them both. They have sparklers as well as promises of hot chocolate to be bought at the venue. Aaron is, dare he say it, excited.

Not that he would ever tell Robert, who is currently tickling Liv’s sides as she shoves him off like she hates him, but in reality she loves these games they play.

He walks back into the living room and Robert stops torturing Liv and looks up at him with a bright smile.

“Alright?”

Liv is scowling and Aaron rolls his eyes, “Come on, sunshine, let’s go or we’ll miss the good ones.”

“And the giant pretzels.” Robert says in fake solemnity.

Liv’s scowl deepens, “I don’t want a giant pretzel.”

She does want a giant pretzel.

Aaron sighs, “There will be giant pretzels.”

Sometimes it’s like having two kids instead of a husband and a sister.

They pile into Aaron’s car and Robert continues his campaign to annoy Liv to death because she happily rises to it. Aaron ignores them both, putting the radio on. He keeps it neutral with Ed Sheeran.

“Hey, Aaron, would you rather smell like goats for the rest of your life or hear everything in screamo?” Liv asks him, coming forward to sit between the driver and passenger seats.

“What?” He frowns. Robert is shaking his head like he’s trying to hold his laughter in.

“Would. You. Rather smell like goats for the rest of your life or hear everything in screamo?” She repeats like that’s normal.

Robert starts rubbing the shell of his ear. He hates alarm clocks in the morning because they feel painful on his ears.

“Smell like goats.” He mumbles. He doesn’t know why he’s uncomfortable with his answer. Maybe it’s to do with the soft knowing smile his husband is giving him as his finger traces the outer edge of his skin.

“Eurgh. Get a room.” Liv shoves Robert’s arm back to his side of the car and out of her way.

They have a couple more rounds, each more disgusting than the last before they arrive at the playing fields. Their tickets are traded for stamps on their hands, which is pointless as they’re all wearing gloves, and they make their way over to the cordoned off areas.

Robert proudly offers Liv the giant pretzel he just bought and she smiles at him and lets herself be pulled into his side as they look up for the first wave.

Aaron hands Robert a coffee and sips his own. Liv wasn’t ready for a drink, happy to munch on breaded goodness while Aaron slings his arm around her shoulders, bracketing her from the other side.

It’s so simple that it shouldn’t mean anything. It’s just a few light up explosions with overpriced food and drink, but Aaron feels warm inside and it has nothing to do with his coffee.

Robert calls to him over Liv’s head, “Hey. You okay?”

He nods, squeezing Liv’s shoulder, she looks up at him with a smile, “Yeah.”

The lights spark and fizzle and the sparklers go down a real treat before they get that hot chocolate. Liv lagging a little bit, weighed down and sleepy because of her pretzel. She finishes her drink and Robert, in faux exasperation, offers to give her a piggy back. To get to the car quicker.

Framed like that, Liv nods and Aaron knows she’s tired. She’s been having trouble sleeping lately, things she needs to talk about but can’t find the words to say on her mind. Aaron’s waiting for her to come to him, Robert holding his hand when he can’t bear to watch her struggle. He knows, they both do, that it needs to be her choice.

They get her back to the car, tucked in and belted, before Robert pulls Aaron into a hug by the side of the car. He brushes a soft kiss on Aaron’s lips, “Tonight was great. A proper little family do.”

Aaron can’t do anything with the swell of love he feels for them both, other than wrap his arms tighter around Robert and press his nose against his shoulder. He feels another kiss against his temple.

“You’re doing great, sweetheart. Doing stuff like this will show her that we love her and it’s okay.”

It’s when Robert calls him sweetheart that his throat closes up and his eyes threaten to water. It started off as a joke, a tease between the two of them, but now, Robert only uses it in the quiet spaces when it’s just the two of them. It’s another way of saying I love you without really saying it.

“I don’t want her to feel alone.” Aaron croaks.

Robert hugs him back just as forcefully as Aaron is clinging to him, “She’s never alone, Aaron. She has us. She’ll always have us.”

Liv is starting to twitch, like she’s waking up. Aaron wipes his face and gives Robert a kiss. “Hey, lazy bones.”

She grumbles and goes back to sleep.

Robert also carries her to bed when they get home, pulling her covers up over her without ever waking her up to get her into her pyjamas.

Aaron stands in the doorway waiting for Robert when he feels a calm settle over him. This is his family. This is home.

Chapter Text

It’s been a long three years. When Aaron had originally decided to bring up a social care degree to start him off on the path to helping people like how he had been, he thought he had been mad. Who was going to want a scrap like him trying to educate people on progressing on with their lives.

Robert had thought it was brilliant.

He’s standing in the crowd, obnoxiously loud and whooping almost as loud as his mum. He had to be physically restrained from bringing a banner, so Aaron is grateful for the small victories.

Sociology is a big department, so he had only been able to get three tickets, one he had to nick of his mate Paul who couldn’t come because he was on holiday in Bermuda. Why the hell he was in Bermuda, Aaron couldn’t say. He was a laugh and they got each other through the mad days and energy drink fill nights when Robert couldn’t stay up with him while finished his work.

It’s everything to see Liv standing up there too, already on her way to finishing her own course, knowing what he’s going through and to see where she’ll end up.

Still. His mum is deafening.

He has also had offers from places that wanted to take him on after he had qualified in his masters. Another curveball thrown his way, that he’s good enough to progress on himself. It’s honestly mad to him that people even cared enough to look him up, let alone offer him anything.

There’s a department party after the ceremony, and one of his tutors, Nell, a woman not far off in age to him, is making her way over. She slings an arm around his shoulders, “You did it, Aaron.”

Robert makes his way up to them, Nell offering him her hand, “Mr Dingle?”

He nods, “Also Mr Sugden.”

Nell raises an eyebrow at him and Aaron laughs, “He’s both, depending on the day.”

“This sounds like a good story, come and tell it to me later, okay?” She pats Aaron on the shoulder and finger guns at Robert, who gives her a confused laugh.

“Quick, before your mum gets here,” Robert gives him a quick peck on the lips and hands him a box. “Just a little something.”

He opens it up and it’s car keys. To a brand new Audi.

“Robert–”

“Before you start, we can afford this. I started saving when you applied, so we’re not out of pocket.” Robert’s smiling wide like he does when he can’t contain himself. “Knew you were gonna be a big deal, didn’t I?”

Aaron hugs Robert with an arm around his neck, keys in hand. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Go, make me prouder.” Robert pushes Aaron in the direction that Nell headed off in. Aaron feels like he’s got a coat hanger shoved in his mouth as he pockets the keys and looks back at his husband. He’s blending in a bit to the crowd of people as they mill about, move to leave. Aaron doesn’t want to be with them. He spent three years with them trying to learn how to be this new type of person: educated, knowledgeable. Now he just wants to go home with his husband because not one of them has ever shown the kind of faith in him that Robert has. His gift just proved it.

Aaron manages to catch up with him when he’s gone to have a glass of wine outside the tent they’ve been housed in.

“You buggered off real fast.” Aaron laughs as he nudges Robert up the wall he’s sitting on.

Robert smiles, smaller than before, “it’s your big day.”

“Yeah, and I wanna spend it with you. And Mum and Liv. Mostly you though. You were the one who got me through this.” Aaron looks down at his feet, “they weren’t the ones talking me down when I said I couldn’t write an essay because I felt too stupid.”

“They didn’t drive up with my books that I had completely forgotten at work. Or made my tea when I forgot to eat. This is about you too, Robert. We did it together.”

Aaron always feels a bit drained when he gets emotional, and the day has been long. Robert offers him his shoulder to lean on and an open arm for a cuddle. He used to hate how easy it was for Robert to soften him up, and now it’s just life. They sit there for a little bit. Just taking in each other’s company.

“Okay, let’s go celebrate this thing. And get control of your mum. It’s been 15 minutes and who knows what she’s done.” Robert says, matter of factly, and Aaron can’t disagree. He grabs Robert’s hand as he stands, lacing their fingers together.

“Let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

Aaron doesn’t know if it’s the soft “you think?” or the lingering look that Robert gives him after he stupidly waits for him to arrive at the hospital that tells him that something is amiss. He ignores the ever expanding hole inside his chest when he picks up the phone, Vic calling him.

“Hiya, Aaron, I just wanted to know if you saw Robert on your way out. No one’s seen him in ages and I’m getting worried.”

He frowns, “No, I saw him but he was coming to see ya’s.”

“Oh. Okay. Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll turn up. Call me if you do though?” She doesn’t sound convinced, but he figures that he was her last ditch attempt at finding him.

“Will do.” He assures her. He has a couple of ideas of where to look. One, actually. He grabs his coat and the blanket off the back of the settee, if Robert is where he thinks he is and for as long as he has, he’s gonna need it.

 

 

Aaron finds him cross legged in front of his father’s grave, his nose red, eyes tired in a way they weren’t when he last saw him. He unfolds the blanket and drops it on Robert’s shoulders. He blinks looking up at Aaron, “What…?”

“You disappear, you don’t text, Vic is calling everyone and their dog looking for you.” He folds himself down to sit next to Robert, their knees almost bumping as they both look at the name: Jack Sugden.

Robert shrugs, pulling the blanket tighter, “I needed to think.”

Aaron nods, “I get that.”

“Being a dad must be a lot.”

When he swallows it feels like glass, only the sadness in Robert’s face stops it from cutting him to shreds. His fingers are clenching, knuckles turning white around the fabric. He’s upset, Aaron knows it, but he can’t get at why. Not anymore. It’s not his place.

Robert sniffs, his nose running a bit in the cold, “Diane said Dad would be proud.”

Ah.

“What do you think he’d be proud of? That I cheated on the man I love when he needed me most, or that I managed to get my ex pregnant?”

Managed. Robert doesn’t mean it the way it sounds. He means it in the ugly way that comes from having his own dad try to beat the queer out of him.

“Robert.” Aaron tries to suffuse his name with all the love and care he will always feel for this man and can never express, “forget what Diane said.”

Robert shakes his head, pulling his knees up to wrap his arms around them and resting his chin on his knees. He looks almost child-like that way. Like he could just rock back and forth and will the world away.

He tries to choose his words carefully: “Jack is dead. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. Only what you do.”

Robert tucks his face away from Aaron, so he knows he’s at least about to cry, if not already wiping away the wetness.

Aaron hesitates for a moment before he puts his hand on Robert’s back, high, between his shoulder blades and rubs gently. It hurts. It hurts to touch him, to feel how warm he is, how much pain is radiating off him, but Aaron endures.

“You’re your own man, Robert. You don’t want to be, Jack? Don’t be Jack–”

Robert turns his face back, eyes red, but tears unshed. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be Jack. It’s that he does. Even now he feels like owes love and loyalty to a man who thought he was wrong. To the idea of a father that stopped being true the moment he took leather to his own son.

He wishes he could think of Jack and see the love that Robert sees, but all he feels is anger, dipped in hatred, for how he hurt Robert, “You need to let him go.”

Robert takes in a deep breath, “He’s my dad.”

“Maybe. But you’re not him. Don’t be him. Please, Robert, don’t be him.” The last part comes out breathy and pained. Aaron bites his lip while Robert unfolds one of his hands from the blanket and offers it to Aaron open palmed and entirely fearful of rejection.

“He was right about me. After everything. He was right.”

Aaron wants to shake his head, deny it, only he knows that if he did Robert would never believe him anyway. So he just listens, his fingers moving from his back to lace against Robert’s.

“He said I ruin everything I touch, and he was right. Andy, Katie, you, Liv…it’s all me, and all I could think about was how I was putting that on my son. He isn’t even a day old and he’s already cursed.” Robert blows out a breath and lets Aaron’s hand go. Aaron feels dread coiling slowly in his belly.

“I’m going to leave.”

Aaron can’t stop it as it comes: “What?”

Robert drops the blanket off his shoulders before sliding it around to give back to Aaron, “I need to give him a fighting chance. I owe him that.”

No. You need to stay here, with me.

“Leaving isn’t the answer. That’s running away.” Aaron stands with Robert, almost reaching out to catch his elbow.

Robert shakes his head, “I did it once, I can do it again.”

Aaron feels cold overlay the dread and he can’t stop himself, “Don’t go.”

It’s pointless, Aaron can see, he just can’t fathom not seeing Robert, not knowing he’s close: “You do this you’ll regret it.”

He smiles a sad smile and Aaron knows he’s lost, “What’s one more, right?”

Robert is walking away and Aaron is dumbstruck. When Robert doesn’t look back, Aaron prays that he will, to show some hesitation or doubt, but he keeps his stride even until Aaron can’t see him anymore and his body sags.

“Robert.” He says it like he can hear him. The headstone catches him out the corner of his eye, his voice tight with emotion, he tells Jack: “I hope you’re happy now.”

There’s nothing Aaron can do to fight a dead man.

Chapter Text

Aaron sighs, “I guess that’s it then.” There’s silence as he sorts himself out, zipping up his hoodie, rescuing his shoe from behind the door when he kicked it off before shutting the door with his foot. Robert feels nothing and everything at the same time. Aaron is slipping through his fingers like sand and there is nothing he can say to stop it.

“I love you.” It’s shaky and full of fraught emotions and Aaron closes his eyes like he’s savouring it for the last time. 

“It’s not enough.”

Before, when Aaron gave Robert back his ring, it was a clean break. Rendered in two, his heart never repaired that crack. Now it’s pulsing new smaller cracks as pieces fall into the open pit of pain that is in his stomach.

Robert shakes his head, “No.”

Aaron looks at him, half confused, half angry: “Whadda mean no?”

“I let you go once because you needed it, but not now. Not again.” Robert grabs at Aaron’s waist, pulling him in, ignoring the token noise of protest. “You’re it for me, I’m never going to want anyone else. Please.”

Aaron’s trying to pull away from him, but Robert digs his fingers into the muscle above his hips.

“Aaron.” It’s weighted with so many things: I love you. I need you. I want you.

Stay.

Aaron pulls hard and wipes his mouth as he catches the doorknob in his hand.

“I can’t.”

Robert feels his heart drop and then flicker with soft hope, “I’ll wait.”

Aaron doesn’t look convinced as he all but throws himself out the door. Robert felt him last night, in the quiet, hands on his body, he isn’t alone in this. Aaron loves him. That’s all he needs. Aaron loves him, so he’ll fight.

*

Aaron sees Robert around, just living his life, and the thought of what he says slowly winds Aaron up. Steadily, incrementally, until Aaron turns up on his doorstep. 

“I’m still waiting, Aaron.” That sucks the air out of Aaron’s chest. His anger dissipating and soft vulnerability taking its place.

“Don’t.”

Robert cups his hand around Aaron’s cheek, thumb brushing softly against his stubble.

“How can I not?” He whispers before he leans down, stopping a breadth away from Aaron’s face. Robert isn’t going to take this from him, Aaron has to give it.

There’s a soft exhalation of breath before Aaron closes the space between them and kisses Robert. It’s fire and heat, but also the grass after rain fall, fresh and rejuvenating. Aaron pulls on his shirt, dragging Robert in before resting his forehead against his, both of them try to catch their breath.

“Nothing’s changed.” Aaron mutters but doesn’t move from where his lips touch Robert’s when he speaks.

“Everything has changed and you know it.”

A big part of Aaron wants to resist. To pretend that his heart hasn’t slowly softened to the little boy sleeping in the Moses basket out the corner of his eye. He was right, so right, about Robert. Being a father made him in ways that he didn’t think were possible. Softened the sharp edges of what his own father did to him. With his son there is nothing to prove, nothing to hide, to feel ashamed of. His innocence reminded Robert of his own, that he didn’t have to be that person. Seb made Robert who he should have been all along. Whole, healthy and healed. Where pain and jealousy had once ruled Aaron’s heart, constantly living in fear of displacement from Robert’s, Aaron only feels gratitude for this small extension of his husband now. He was able to do what Aaron couldn’t; break the cycle.

His heart is racing like a rabbit at a racetrack as he says the words he knows Robert has been waiting to hear, “Okay, I’ll try.”

Robert’s smile is blinding before he catches Aaron’s mouth. Aaron doesn’t fear the promises Robert makes now.

Chapter Text

“You know my French is actually pants, right?” Aaron laughs as Robert hems him up against the back of their closed bedroom door. “C’est vraiment de la merde.

There’s a happy little spark in Robert’s eyes as he laughs, biting his lip. It’s honestly baffling to Aaron, why he’s so happy about this. He’s pushing Aaron’s hoodie off his shoulders and pressing quick kisses on his mouth.

“Seriously. Nul points from France, I think it’s why they kicked me back. Nous ne voulons pas le stupide Anglais…man.”

Robert’s jacket goes and he leans down, wraps his arms under Aaron’s arse and lifts him up and over to the bed. They both drop, Aaron laughing underneath Robert who traps him with the cage of his body; arms either side of Aaron’s head, knees outside of his hips.

“Just keep talking.”

“About what? I don’t know anything. Je ne pouvais pas commander de bière pendant un mois.”

His accent is terrible. Never improved one bit the whole time he was there, so he trips over the word for beer with his drawn out vowels, sounding slack instead of lilting. He could have been reciting the weekly shopping list for all Robert cares.

He does know one thing Rob will appreciate, “Donne-moi un baiser. Baise-moi.”

“Those aren’t the same, are they?”

Aaron shakes his head, unable to keep a smirk off his mouth, “No, they’re not.”

Robert slides his lips along Aaron’s cheek, “Is this right?”

He shakes his head again, “Close.” Aaron tilts his chin up to where Robert’s mouth is hovering just over his.

Baiser.” Robert tests like he’s trying to learn, but is just as heavy handed as Aaron. It makes him smile anyway.

Un baiser,” Aaron leans up, slipping his mouth over Robert’s, letting their lips catch softly before dropping back down onto the pillow

Baise-moi?” Robert’s smile turns sly, he’s got a pretty good idea what it means, “You do a lot of that in France then?”

Aaron shrugs, “Some. More like je veux te baiser.” He lets his voice drop. Yeah, he’s definitely said that a few times in those French bars Robert must be dreaming up.

“Bet they didn’t know what hit ‘em.”

Aaron works his hands under the back of Robert’s shirt, his skin soft as he rubs his hands up and down, “It was alright.”

“Better at home?”

He thinks about the times he had in France, the fun and simplicity he had with Ed, and he doesn’t miss it at all. Those experiences are a part of him, but it’s like Robert just said, it wasn’t home.

“Suppose I had to come back and meet you again, didn’t I?”

Robert’s face softens as he lies himself down on top of Aaron. He’s not saying they were meant to be, but it’s the closest thing to I love you he’s said since they got back together. Robert wriggles Aaron’s t-shirt up between their bodies and they manage to get it over his head before he sucks wet kisses down the centre of his chest.

“I guess I had better make it worth your while then.” Robert drags himself up to his knees and yanks Aaron’s trousers down, his pants coming with the strength of his pulls.

There’s always a moment when Robert just looks at Aaron. He never knows if he’s trying to make a mental image of what Aaron looks like, or he just doesn’t know what to do with how much he wants. Robert gets them off his ankles finally and chucks them off the side of the bed, his shirt following suit before he spreads Aaron’s thighs a little and bites the soft crease of his hip. It tickles so Aaron pulls his leg up and away, but Robert stops him with a warm hand on his knee, keep it close for a gentle kiss on the side of it.

Robert’s fingers brush against him, featherlight and distant. Aaron lets his knees go so that they fall open on the bed, “Plus fort.”

Aaron.”

Yeah, Robert is definitely keen on his poor language skills. His grip tightens up, curling around Aaron who bites his lip and rocks his hips. Eventually Robert leaves him to take himself in hand as he grabs the lube out of the drawer. He stands up to get his trousers off, leaving them in an unwanted heap as he refocuses his efforts on Aaron. He nudges him further over on the bed, lying on his side next to Aaron, leg hooked over his. Lube uncapped, he presses his fingers back behind himself. Aaron can’t see, but he knows. He knows how Robert likes to push two in to start with, force his own body to stretch and adapt.

Aaron slicks up his own hand, making it easier to stroke and tug his dick in the way that he likes. Mostly he doesn’t want any distractions from how Robert closes his eyes, screwed shut, mouth open a little as breathy sighs catch in his throat.

Mon dieu. Is that it, Rob? You wanna hear how you’re God’s gift?” Aaron encourages, Robert’s rolling his hips now, working himself on his fingers, his thigh twitching and flexing with every gentle thrust. “Plus vite. Come on, you’re going easy on yourself.”

Robert’s head drops forward and leans against Aaron’s, his breathing moving to consistently heavier pants as he works up his own pleasure. Aaron pulls at Robert’s wrist, and he takes his fingers away, rolling onto his back.

Aaron pulls Robert up just so that he can get a pillow up under him, his cock leaking a bit on his belly when Aaron rubs a cursory thumb against his rim. Aaron presses into him slowly. More gently than Robert would have with his own fingers because Aaron knows how that frustrates him. His hands go over Aaron’s on his thighs, where Aaron’s holding them out of his way, trying to pull him to go faster.

N’arretez pas. Say it.” He snaps his hips driving himself in the last bit of the way inside, and Robert coughs almost like he chokes on how deep Aaron reaches. “J’ai besoin de vous. Je veux que vous. Ici, maintenant.”

Robert’s hands move to clutch at Aaron’s sides. Every word seems to touch a different part of him as he clings tighter, his thighs clenching against Aaron’s hips. Aaron leans down and breathes into the kiss he gives Robert, their tongues pressing hot and slick against each other. Robert’s chest is starting to flush against the normal paleness and freckles of his skin.

“Come on, Rob, j’ai besoin de vous. Vous êtes tout.”

It’s completely nonsensical to both of them now, Aaron’s own wants curling up inside him, hot and branding as Robert’s fingers dig harder into his skin. One of those hands slides away from him and back onto Robert’s dick, stripping hard as they both breath harshly, both watching Robert’s fingers drag in increasing speed.

Robert comes first, his legs locking against Aaron, his body turning like a vice, spurting hotly against his chest before he relaxes. His hips roll gently as he works his release out of himself, his other hand rubbing reassuringly against Aaron’s hip, who just managed to hold on. Aaron moves down to his forearms, his thrusts slowed right down as he presses soft kisses against Robert’s neck, followed by little blunt bites that Robert moves his head to encourage. Aaron’s orgasm is tame in comparison. It happens slowly and all at once as he pushes against Robert, spilling deeply inside. His voice is a soft cry that brings Robert’s hand to the back of his head, a warm palm brushing down against his neck.

“You’ll have to tell me what that all means one day.” Robert tells him as Aaron flops down on him.

Aaron nods, “Mmm. Maybe I will.”

Robert pinches him for his trouble but Aaron just ignores him. He’s satisfied now, by so many things, and he doesn’t even want to think about anything else.

Robert senses the change in mood, his fingers that never stopped stroking Aaron’s neck, dance across his shoulders: “Don’t sleep too long. We’ve got a trip to book.”

Chapter Text

It all goes down on the third day that Robert and Rebecca don’t wake up. Sebastian is free and clear of any injury and Chrissie wants to take him home. Vic had called Aaron in a tizzy because of all the accusations flying around. Robert’s confession and apology. She’s terrified if he goes home with the Whites that she’ll never see him again.

Part of Aaron wonders why this is his problem, but he gets himself to the hospital anyway. Chrissie’s standing by Sebastian’s crib, arms folded, nodding at what a doctor tells her. It looks like a done deal, and Aaron feels anger rise in his chest.

“You can’t take him.” He says as he opens the door.

“Excuse me?” Chrissie glares at him, “I don’t think that’s any of your business. A hospital is no place for a baby. Germ factories. No offence.”

The doctor shakes his head, none taken, but full meant. He slowly eeks out of the room and Aaron folds his arms, ready for a fight.

“Robert and Rebecca aren’t even awake, you think maybe one of them should get to decide where their son goes?” He can hear the rise of his voice, getting angrier, and Chrissie responding to it.

“He’s my sister’s son!”

“And he’s my husband’s!” Aaron can barely stop the words as they lash out, “And it was your creep of a kid that put them here.”

“You don’t know that.” She steps back slightly, Aaron knows he has her. He always does when it comes to Lachlan. Say what you want, but Chrissie is a mother first.

“I know exactly what he’s been doing. He won’t get away with it, not with his record.”

Chrissie squares her shoulders, like she’s reconsidering Aaron as her opponent. Aaron simply sighs, “Look, they’re both out of it, so quit the ‘I’m taking the baby’ talk. Robert’s his dad. You can’t take that away from him.”

 

In the days following their bust up, they get a weird détente going. Aaron brings her a cup of coffee that he leaves on the table for her, not ready to hand it to her, while she watches Sebastian. He doesn’t ask why she hasn’t been to see her sister. He hasn’t been to see Robert either.

There’s a tension in the room, there always is, given their history, but she’s been kind to him. As much as she’s able while he’s threatening her son.

So, he dives right in to the heart of it: “He loved you.”

Chrissie looks at him out of the corner of her eye. She looks impressed that he went there, her lips twitch into a small smile.

“He loved you more.”

Aaron wants to say it’s not true, that Robert would have stayed with her if he hadn’t outed him, but he doesn’t know for sure.

Chrissie turns to him on her uncomfortable hospital chair, folding one leg up under herself, “And that’s what I don’t get. As blonde as my sister is, she’s nothing compared to the great Aaron Dingle.”

Aaron shifts in his seat. This wasn’t where he wanted this to go.

She doesn’t stop either. It’s like he opened the box and she can’t help but delve in to see what’s inside.

“He loved you enough to wait when there was no hope, right? He’s still waiting, if his ring is anything to go by. What more do you want? Need?”

Aaron hates how Chrissie gets under his skin, makes the emotions swell inside him. “The baby…is a constant reminder of what he did.”

Chrissie looks him over, “I’m not buying it. You are reminder of what my ex-husband did. Except it was worse. He loved you. God, he married you. Totted you around like a dog with two tails. That is not this.”

There’s tiny pinpricks behind his eyes and he knows that they’re going red by how Chrissie’s face softens. He hates that she’s dragging this out of him, but he needs it. He needs to unload everything he’s been carrying.

“His son is a reminder of how much he hated me.” He breathes out, weight lifted but not, “He chose Rebecca because I hurt him, I broke him, and now, I can’t forget that. How can I put that on an innocent baby?”

“You don’t. You put it where it belongs. On the damn mess of choice and circumstance that got you here.” She swirls her coffee cup and takes a sip, “Aaron, Sebastian isn’t going to look up at you one day and ask what happened. Ask why Daddy cheated on Dad with Mum because he’s an idiot. He’s just going to know he’s loved. If you can do that for him.”

Can he?

“I don’t know if I can do it.”

She stands, grabbing her bag, “Then you’re not the man I thought you were.”

He flits his eyes up to her face. She’s pale, her face clean of make up and a tiredness that only comes from worrying about someone you love.

“Depends on who you thought I am.” He says it with a bit of attitude that he doesn’t even feel. She sighs, like she looks at him and knows better. That somehow in the days they’ve spent here have given her insight into him.

“Better. Look at Robert, lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life, for his son, repentant for all his crimes. He didn’t do that on his own. That was you.” She slips her jacket over her arm before hesitantly patting his shoulder, “I’m going to see Bex. You watch him, okay?”

He nods.

She turns back again before she gets out of the door, “You almost lost him here, for real. You still could. Do you really want to live your life based on one mistake? Is that all Robert is to you?”

He doesn’t answer her, and she leaves. He doesn’t know anymore. He doesn’t know anything. Aaron wipes his mouth and slips his other hand between the bars of the crib to rub his finger against Seb’s tiny hand. Tiny fingers flex and curl, as if to clutch at Aaron’s finger if it had been under his palm.

“We’ll get your daddy awake and then we’ll see.” Aaron doesn’t wipe the tears as they come. He figures that Sebastian is the only one who could ever appreciate them, since he’s the only one who is ever going to love Robert as much as Aaron does. “We’ll see, yeah.”

Chapter Text

Robert’s laying on his back, Aaron lying on top of him, legs spread either side of Robert’s hips as he rubs his fingers against him. Aaron just hides his face against Robert’s neck and rolls his hips at the sensation. It’s slow and easy, and what they’ve become to each other.

Robert mouths at Aaron’s collarbone wetly, not even bothering with teeth as he slips a finger just inside to the first knuckle. Aaron tries to clench up, his knees tighten, and his breathing is one sharp intake before shallower ones replace it. He doesn’t know what prompts it, or even why, but Aaron pushes at Robert’s arm, so he removes his finger and Aaron rolls off to the side. Robert’s confused but Aaron hasn’t stopped turning. He flips himself onto his belly and Robert’s heart stops.

Aaron’s head is hidden by the now fold of his arms, his shoulders belie the anxiety he must feel as they rise and fall with enforced slowness. Robert strokes his fingertips down the inside of one of Aaron’s thighs, “Are you sure?” There’s nothing, until Robert sees a tiny nod of his head.

Robert pushes at the leg he was stroking, getting Aaron to bend his knee and slide his leg up so that it’s in line with his hip. It helps expose him to Robert’s gaze. The rest he has to do himself, his hands curving over the soft skin and thick muscle of Aaron’s arse. He parts him, Aaron’s breath sharpens again but he doesn’t protest.

It’s odd. Robert never really had positive feelings either way about performing the act. It was a trade-off to get what he wanted, but here, with Aaron, it does mean something. He doesn’t know what because Aaron won’t tell him, but he knows if he does it wrong, things won’t be the same between them. So, he starts gentle, a soft swipe and a barely there blow of air against his skin.

Aaron’s biceps strain so Robert knows he’s curling his hands under his head. He takes a long pass the second time, flattening his tongue before curling the tip to flick over the edges. This time he can see the twitch in Aaron’s thighs. He spits and that gets a jolt as well as a tiny roll of Aaron’s hips. He tests to see if Aaron will give a little, not yet, so he presses his tongue against him again, varying thick stripes with smaller licks.

Aaron doesn’t make a sound until Robert sucks the skin into his mouth. Then he gets an unexpected cry and Aaron trying to push himself up on his hands, but Robert presses lightly on the small of his back to soothe him and get him to lie back down. He presses his tongue inside again and finally pushes past his rim. It’s hot, hotter than outside, and Robert can’t help but moan at the thought. The knowledge of what Aaron is giving him. He gropes his hand against Aaron’s cheek, a little rough in his eagerness and Aaron rolls his hips again, finally trying to push back on Robert’s tongue.

Robert moans again, encouraging Aaron to move as Aaron slides his hand under his body to play with his dick. Robert pulls away to watch, just for a second, Aaron’s humping his own hand squashed between himself and the bed. It spikes want hard in Robert and he traces his hole with a fingertip. Part of him wants to plunge it inside and have his way, pin Aaron to the bed and fuck him through orgasm after orgasm but he knows that he’s been given something here. He can’t betray that.

“Look at you. All slicked up with spit and kisses, it’s obscene.” Aaron can’t hide his moan despite trying to bite on his forearm. He tries to curl his hips away from Robert, but he isn’t having it. He pulls Aaron back and shoves his tongue back inside for a few cursory thrusts.

“God, I want it so bad,” Robert whispers, the breath of the words caressing Aaron’s skin, “All you’re giving me? Perfect.”

He sucks against Aaron’s rim again and presses two fingers against his perineum. Aaron’s hand speeds up as much as it can, and Robert shoves his tongue back in as far as it will go before fucking Aaron deep with it. He’s usually quiet, his lip bitten between his teeth, but this time Robert can hear him, can hear his keening cries as he works himself between his own hand and Robert’s mouth. Robert’s grip on his hips tightens, digging his fingers in so Aaron knows that it’s him here with him.

Robert feels it before he hears it, Aaron’s body clenches around his tongue and everything stills for a second before Aaron relaxes into shuddering pulses of come on his bed. Robert licks one last stripe before he pulls away. Aaron stays on his belly, his shoulders showing that his breathing hasn’t quite evened out yet. Robert smiles and slides up so that he’s sitting on his side waiting for Aaron to turn over. He presses a kiss against his shoulder and rubs a hand down his back, “Hey.”

Aaron turns his head and blinks somewhat sleepily at Robert, “Hey.” He’s the softest Robert has ever seen him, he even allows a gentle tongueless kiss be pressed against his lips before Robert lays back to just happily stare. Aaron frowns after a while, coming back to himself.

Robert sighs. “You alright?”

Aaron nods, “Yeah.”

But the time they shared is over. Whatever trust had been placed in Robert has been shuttered out with the last few endorphins of Aaron’s orgasm.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” He asks.

Robert shakes his head, “No. I’m here. Just for you.”

Not with. For. Neither one of them pick up on what they know is a deliberate word choice.

Aaron nods though, “Okay.”

Chapter Text

He knew realistically it was bound to happen. It’s generally unavoidable with the way Robert grabs a fistful of Aaron’s hair and clenches his thighs around his face when he comes.

He had just forgotten how sore it was.

There’s an almost rash like patch up by the crease of his hip that he has to rub ice cubes against before he can even put his pants on to go to the shop. He isn’t hiding anything as he John Wayne’s it from their bedroom in trackies and down to the kitchen. Aaron’s staring at him, bemused, while eating a bowl of cornflakes.

“You alright?”

It takes all Robert’s willpower not to adjust the leg part of his pants to lie a different way because he is not admitting defeat to his husband’s facial forestry.

He plasters a small smile on his face, “Brilliant.”

Aaron doesn’t buy shit, so he puts his bowl down and makes his way over to Robert. Robert juts his chin out in a show of false confidence and Aaron smiles as he rubs his face against Robert’s neck. It’s like fire. Hot fiery scrapes that both hurt and turn him on. It gets worse when Aaron swipes his tongue over the muscle, to soothe the burn, and Robert shifts awkwardly from side to side, his pants having moved on his leg again, making him wince.

“You sure?” Aaron’s biting his lip, his face completely smug and not at all apologetic. He specifically drags his chin over the delicate skin on the hollows of Robert’s throat. He’s interested, of course he is, but he isn’t going to give Aaron the satisfaction.

Robert pushes at Aaron’s chest, “You’re a dick, now move.”

Aaron laughs and bumps his forehead on Robert’s shoulder before Robert shoves gently past him.

“Come on.” Aaron tries to play him with jokingly sad eyes, but Robert is already planning return fire. The game is on.

 

 

Just because Robert chooses not to grow a beard, doesn’t mean he can’t. He decides to do Movember the following year, and as an everyday check of his beard’s growth, he sits on the backs of Aaron’s calves, trapping him, before pushing his face against Aaron’s naked bum.

It is a revenge that takes time and planning, but it is the most satisfying when later in the month, Aaron takes to standing up with his breakfast rather than sitting with Robert and Liv. Liv doesn’t quite understand it and Aaron isn’t going to explain it to her, so Robert brings back that smug look Aaron had and stares at him from across the table.

Aaron stares back for a long moment before he caves: “Oh for god’s sake, shave it will you?”

Game. Set. Match.

Chapter Text

Death gets bored.

The Underworld is boring. Cavernous and cold, quiet but for the occasional wailing soul, it slows the passage of time for even Death himself. So he watches the world, and he waits, because if he does for long enough, there will be a human that will intrigue him. Draw his attention and end this monotony for a few decades.

He searches the world over and nothing. He grits his teeth and looks again. His mind sketches over the simpering idiots, the gluttonous magnates and he sighs.

Wait. There.

He’s young, he can feel it. Death knows by the marks inside him that he has touched this boy, man, before. Almost had him in his grasp and how that fact drives this person to live more.

It’s not even a question. He congregates himself into something the human might like, but very much himself. Fair with light eyes, a dusting of freckles to humanise his beauty.

Dark hair and blue eyes, that’s what he sees first, but he felt him long before this. Has known the edges of his being, the embrace of his lion’s heart and the gentle purity in his soul before words were ever formed. He pushes back when Death mocks him, which pleases Death. His eyes don’t even flit to the other one he knows is there, such is the fire in this man; all consuming and burning everything that isn’t him from Death’s mind.

For the first time in centuries, Death wants.

At first it’s little things. Conversation, his presence, but it escalates with that piercing gaze that never leaves him, the twitch of soft lips that tells him that Aaron, that’s what he’s called, wants him. He’s lain with men and women, craving what each can give him, but never once feeling how they yearn for him. Not like Aaron. He grabs and pulls and rearranges him to his liking and expects more from him without ever saying a word. It’s intoxicating, but dangerous. He fails in Aaron’s eyes constantly. Never bold enough, never open enough, never enough. Not when Aaron thinks there is more he can give.

It tears at him and makes him cruel. He leaves Aaron bleeding without ever picking up a knife. He can’t stop, it’s ugly and wrong, but beautiful to him too, to see how Aaron remains as human as he’s ever been in the face of Death’s torture. How even when they part from their bed, that he still holds Death in his heart, whispering his darkest secrets to him because he never learned not to trust the thing masquerading with a human face.

When it comes down to it in times future, Death doesn’t kill Aaron’s father, but given the choice, he doesn’t bar his early entry into the Underworld either.

He finds he’s lonely without Aaron, chasing after scraps of his attention like he is a mere mortal worshipping at an immortal’s alter. Aaron is tight with them too, barely giving him anything to sustain the fire Aaron lit inside him and abandoned when the pain got too much. He keeps it alive though, like the beating of his false heart and pumping of unnecessary blood in his veins. He does it all for Aaron. Always.

Somehow he is rewarded. Aaron returns to him. With hesitant words and uneven breathing, he offers himself in the meaning of his confrontation. I want to able to rely on you like he ever stopped. All he can do is press all his apologies and hopes into that first kiss of new beginnings.

For a time, they’re happy. Aaron smiles and beams light he will never see, and Death is reborn. His cold and unforgiving approach to humanity is suspended with warmth and love, but it doesn’t last. The pieces of Aaron’s pain grind inside him as he descends into unnecessary jealousy, his anger rising further still. Death tries to halt their progress with vows and promises, but they fail. He fails. Without Aaron to guide him, he is a shade of what a human should be. Their agony is given fresh voice with tiny screaming lungs.

Death doesn’t move on. Doesn’t return to where he should be. He finds small joys in what humans call ‘fatherhood’, but it doesn’t detract from his truth: he longs for Aaron. He lives this each day like the cloak he keeps upon his throne, thick and blanketing all things.

He doesn’t see the other human coming, his impotent rage scratching at his door before it explodes all the windows and shards inwards. He lies in a hospital bed, unable to move and trapped by his own power. Aaron comes to him, whispering yet more words of love he knows he doesn’t deserve and that’s when he decides he has to go. He slips from his human form and stands incorporeal behind his love as pale green eyes meet blue.

“Robert?” Aaron calls to him.

Robert blinks, “Aaron?”

Aaron laughs nervously as he squeezes Robert’s hand and Robert smiles back.

Death sees himself in the man he has created. The sweep of his brow, the curve of his mouth, but he knows he has not left any of his failings. This man won’t ever make Aaron bleed. This man won’t ever shatter his soul. He is everything Death is not. Human.

He feels his energy fading from the world when Aaron looks back behind himself. The room is empty to his eyes, but he looks right at Death, holding Robert’s hand tighter. There is no recognition in him when Death moves towards him, his hand ghosting over Aaron’s jaw. His time is over, not that it should have ever been. He kisses parted lips but they don’t react, and then he’s gone.

One day Aaron will return to him, not in pain and grief, but aged and loved and he will know what Death has done for him. What he did for Death.

So Death is no longer bored in the Underworld. He’s waiting now. Waiting for Aaron.

Always.

Chapter Text

It’s Rob’s birthday, the first since they decided to get back together in February and Aaron has decided to make it special.

Or he tried to.

He’s working on a happy buzz with a couple of cans while he sorts himself out at home when Robert rocks up at the front door, dropping his keys loudly on the doormat and Vanessa is sniggering conspiratorially behind him.

The “sssh!” from Robert is loud and his keys jangle from where he grabs them, Vanessa laughing harder until Aaron opens the front door and they both look at him like naughty children about to get a scolding.

“Aaron!” Robert’s eyes are wide and he drops his keys again.

Aaron nods and bites his lip, “What’s all this?”

Vanessa has the sense to look sheepish, “I’m sorry, Aaron, I just caught Robert on his way and I wanted to buy him a drink to celebrate.”

Once upon a time, Aaron would have found their friendship strange, Vanessa much too soft for the harsh angles of Robert Sugden, but he’s different now. Softer, less pained.

“A drink? He smells like a Saturday night in town.” Aaron sighs heavily and Robert looks down at his feet, eyes sad and it frankly hurts Aaron’s heart a little bit to see. “Thanks for bringing him home.”

She smiles, “Anytime.”

Aaron grabs Robert’s elbow, “You, inside.”

Robert’s lip is wibbling a little and Aaron wonders if he’s about to take a downturn into being a maudlin drunk. Instead, he hugs his arms around Aaron’s waist, “Do you love me? Or have I ruined everything?”

“C’mere, you daft sod.” Aaron huffs as he brushes his hand down the back of Robert’s hair. “It’s nice you had a mate take you out for a drink.”

Robert smears his mouth against Aaron’s top in an attempt at a kiss on his chest and Aaron laughs as he slings his arm around Robert’s shoulders and guides him to the settee.

“You’re my best mate.” Robert asserts as he makes himself comfortable by Aaron’s side. “Am I your best mate?”

Aaron looks down at the soft glazed look on his husband’s face, the half quirked smile and he shrugs, “Eh.”

Robert’s eyes widen, “I’m your husband!”

“Yeah, that’s better than a best mate, innit?”

There’s a moment where Robert’s face just turns into a wide grin, eyes lit up like Christmas, “You wait till Adam hears about this, he’s gonna be well jealous.”

Aaron snorts, “Okay, Rob, you tell ‘im.”

*

The former birthday boy feels groggy the next morning and earnestly apologetic. Aaron shrugs, “You enjoy it?” Robert nods, “Then it’s all good. I do want to give you your present though. If you’re not half cocked, that is.”

Aaron laughs when Robert shoves him. They share a soft kiss over the kitchen table and Aaron smiles against Robert’s mouth. Doesn’t matter what day he celebrates with Robert, just that he gets to. Robert looks at him as if he can see the mush that’s going on in his head, so he leans back, smug smile on his face.

Robert asks him, angling for some soppy love confession, “Do you love me?”

Aaron isn’t going to cave: “Do I love you? Yes. Do I like you? That’s still up for debate.”

He’s got a lot more birthdays to get through with this man, he can’t let his head get too big so early on, right?

Chapter Text

On a scale of 1 to 10, Aaron’s feelings toward murdering Gerry are at 25. He knows it was an accident, that Liv had drank as much as she had under her own volition, but he trusted Gerry to look after her. Also getting your stomach pumped at 16 after recently being in hospital for an accidental overdose, deep breaths, Aaron, is just too much for him.

Liv is upstairs in bed, Gerry keeping vigil from the end of her bed like the lovable guard dog he has become.

Robert, on the other hand, is loitering by the door. “Hey.”

Aaron nods, “Hey.”

“I can go, but…I don’t want to leave you just yet. It wouldn’t feel right. Not with Liv…”

He can’t say it either. They had been on another ‘date’, is it even still dating if you were once married? Still married?  And Gerry had called, terrified out of his mind that Liv wasn’t breathing and had possibly choked on her own vomit. She hadn’t. She passed out and squished her face in a mixture of crisps, cheap beer and summat else. Aaron had felt his heart stop, his hand grabbing Robert’s when he heard the words. Robert drove them to the hospital, his hand rubbing Aaron’s knee when he wasn’t changing gears, whispering words of comfort that neither one of them remembers.

Aaron feels his eyes prick with unshed tears and Robert is with him immediately, wrapping him up in a hug and hiding his face if he needs to cry.

“It was an accident. A stupid teenage accident. One she will be grounded for until she’s 18, but it’s one we’ve all made.”

He clutches at Robert’s shirt, “Stay.”

They haven’t gotten to this part, just parting kisses and one enthusiastic snog outside the Woolie last week, but he needs this. He needs Robert’s steady presence because his isn’t. He’s about to fly off six different handles and he can’t stop any of it.

Aaron leads him up to their room, it’s still their room, and they lay down, Aaron spooned by Robert’s arms, his chest a solid comfort to Aaron’s back. They don’t even take off their shoes. They just listen to each other breathe until night turns into day and Liv wakes up and goes down to make herself some breakfast. It’s only then that Aaron can breathe, that his body lets go and cries the silent tears he has to cry. Robert holds him and presses a kiss to the back of his head, thumbs rubbing gently against his belly. When he’s done he wipes his face and turns over, Robert smiling softly at him.

“You made it.”

He nods, “We did.”

Chapter Text

“If you think I don’t feel anything for you, then you’re more stupid than I thought!” 

Aaron’s shouting it at him like the volume is somehow going to make Robert understand it better. As soon as he’s done he looks like he wants to back track. He can’t though, Robert heard him. He’s close enough to Robert’s hospital bed that he can reach out and catch Aaron’s fingers with his.

“I’m sorry.” He tries, but Aaron twitches his nose and draws his head back. Robert pulls on Aaron’s hand to try and grasp it more firmly but he won’t come. “Aaron.”

“How could you–” Aaron stops himself, his voice on the verge of cracking. Robert knows it because he knows Aaron. Has seen every part of him. “I love you.

Aaron pulls his hand away and Robert lets out a sound as he goes.

“You think you’re the only one hurting, Rob? You were…there was no one before you. Not like this, and you can’t even.”

It’s breaking Robert’s heart to see Aaron’s pain, how his eyes redden, his breathing grows heavy with emotion.

“I can’t do this.” Aaron throws up his hands, “I’m done.”

Robert can’t even get up from his bed to go after him, “Aaron! Aaron, please!”

It’s no use. It’s too late.

Chapter Text

Robert feels wrung out in the best way possible. His skin is sweaty, his legs are like jelly and he’s laughing like air is funny because he’s come so hard that all three are true.

He’s lying on his stomach on their bed, head on a pillow, with Aaron next to him on his back, leg slung so that it’s hanging on the back of Robert’s right thigh. He feels empty, but also like if he clenches hard enough he can feel where Aaron was inside him. It almost gets his dick to twitch.

His face must show some level of concentration because Aaron looks at him, his brows drawn in, “What?”

“Nothing.” Robert drags his lips over his teeth and then lets them go. He has orgasmed his way into a silly mood as laughter tries to bubble up inside him for no reason.

“No, come on, what is it?” Aaron looks at him seriously and it just makes it ten times worse.

He shakes his head, “It’s nothing.”

“It’s obviously summat.”

Normally, he wouldn’t hesitate and just blurt out whatever is on his mind, but Aaron is looking at him with such a focus that whatever comes out his mouth had better be worth more than the inane shit rolling around in there now.

“Just. You’re really good at that.” Robert tucks his arm up under his head so he can see Aaron easier.

He just looks at Robert for a moment like he doesn’t understand the man he married. “What.”

Laughing is not the answer to this conundrum, but it’s what Robert does. Aaron looks moderately offended as he sits up, rolls, and situates himself on the back of Robert’s legs. Robert can’t stop chuckling, his body is rolling on happy hormones, and Aaron’s leg hair tickles his own. He ends up with a slap on his thigh for his troubles.

“Argh! Aaron! I didn’t mean it like that.” He tries to wriggle away, but Aaron has him trapped with his weight on Robert’s legs and now that he’s on Robert’s back, he has his hands pinning Robert’s waist.

“What did ya mean it like?” Another slap hits higher up and it spreads warmly under Robert’s skin.

Robert bites his lip again, his hands clutching at the sheets, “Jesus. Like I fucking love you up inside me.”

Aaron seems mollified when his hand smoothes over Robert’s arse cheek. Robert himself doesn’t even begin to understand how or why his dick is stirring, but it is. He turns his head to the other side and catches Aaron’s eye.

Yeah, he’s not angry at all.

Robert knows the slap is coming before it reaches him, so his anticipation spikes his desire as the loud crack of Aaron’s palm on the soft fleshy part of his bum rebounds in the sudden silence of the room. Another one follows immediately after it, and Robert can’t keep his moans inside. Instead, he manages to press them into his pillow when he turns his head again.

“Aaron, come on.” Robert doesn’t know if he wants to stop Aaron or make him carry on, but his voice sounds breathy to his own ears and he can’t help a little pant when Aaron swipes his fingers against his still wet rim. His fingers are teasing Robert when he slaps down again on his arse, and Robert has to push against the headboard to try and cope with how good it feels. Aaron is heavy enough on Robert’s legs that his cock is trapped between his body and the duvet, and if he rolls his hips, he can work up a satisfying drag. He does it maybe three times before Aaron catches him on the underside of his arse and Robert curls his fingers against the headboard.

“Stop getting yourself off.” Aaron commands him, and Robert stills. He values the almost velvety heat that Aaron brings up with every strike against his skin more than the now pulsing need of his dick. It doesn’t mean it’s not hard and he doesn’t whine when he hears it. “You can do it, Rob.”

He licks his lips when Aaron skates his fingers between his thighs and catches on his inner thigh crease, but he manages to hold still. Aaron’s other hand slaps high up near his balls as his fingers slip past the still nonexistent resistance. Robert can’t take it, he cries out and drags his dick across the bed when he raises his arse up as much as he’s able, and Aaron pushes him down firmly while thrusting two fingers inside him. He gives him two strong taps actually on his balls and Robert feels it in his belly and his throat. He gives up all semblance of playing by the rules as he tucks his hand under himself and rubs against his foreskin before fucking into his fist.

Aaron doesn’t stop him, he just varies his strikes between the crease of Robert’s bum where it’s slightly more parted because of Aaron’s fingers plunging inside him, the underside of his cheeks and where he gives those light but firm raps against his balls. Robert can’t help but hiccup with how good it all feels as he rocks between his own hand and Aaron’s fingers. He’s muttering “yes” under his breath like it’s amen.

It happens all at once when Aaron presses down inside him and gives him the hardest slap on his arse yet. It causes Robert’s hand to naturally tighten on his dick and he spills over said hand and the duvet. Aaron strokes his cheek while keeping his fingers curled and rocking as Robert continues to ride the quivering shakes of his orgasm. Eventually they slow, and then stop, and Aaron slowly eases his fingers out.

He doesn’t stay sat on Robert’s legs, he goes back to his original position on his back, arm folded behind his head.

“You’re really good at that.” Robert wipes his hand before he pushes up on both and turns over too. The wet patch is gross but he’s even less competent to stand up than he was before.

Aaron just leans down and gives Robert a kiss, “Mmm.”

“I’ll definitely return the favour. Later. When I can feel my legs again.”

Chapter Text

Aaron’s a little tired from his run, and life in general, so they just lay on the bed for a little while. He has this thing where he lies on his side and he rubs Robert’s stomach, just soft circling fingers under his belly button that is both comforting and relaxing. Aaron doesn’t even have his eyes open, he’s just content to do this thing and be with Robert, and Robert has never had that. He doesn’t know how to cope with how his heart just swells up in his chest. He leans forward and kisses Aaron, not a peck, but he doesn’t linger longer than it takes Aaron to open his eyes. He’s not alert, his eyes don’t focus right away, but he smiles a little and Robert kisses him again.

Robert pushes at Aaron’s arm and he goes easily, lying on his back and Robert shifts so he’s along the line of Aaron’s body, his hand rucking up Aaron’s t-shirt. Aaron rubs his forearm as Robert shoves the offending material up until Aaron has to sit up to take it off. Now Robert decides to slide over so that he ends up in the cradle of Aaron’s thighs.

Aaron is still looking at him with that slightly amused gaze as he lays back down, his fingers brushing through Robert’s hair. He scrunches up his nose and asks: “What?

Robert shakes his head, “Nothing.”

He drops a kiss on Aaron’s chest while Aaron pulls the back of his t-shirt up. It ruffles Robert’s hair when it finally comes off. Aaron has an odd fascination with freckles that pepper his shoulders and he always traces them with light fingertips whenever he sees them. Robert knows he has lube tucked up under his pillow, so he leans up and over to grab it while Aaron watches him with sharper eyes. He bites his bottom lip in the way that makes Robert want to rub his thumb on it to free it.

Robert doesn’t bother pushing Aaron’s pants off, he just gets his hands far enough inside that they cup his cheeks and pull Aaron up so that when he wets his finger he can press against him. Knees knock against Robert’s sides as Aaron digs his fingers into his shoulders, his head tipping back on the pillow, and Robert noses the long line it produces. He sucks a kiss down close to the hollows of Aaron’s throat and slips past his resistance. Robert lets his body roll and press against Aaron’s dick to help it to fill up, but he groans when Aaron scratches his fingers down his back. He rocks for as long as it takes for the tip of Aaron’s cock to peek out the top of his underwear, glistening with the barest hint of pre-come.

He slips a second finger alongside the first, and Aaron pushes at him, more reflexive than anything else, but Robert is just happy to watch Aaron’s face as he screws his eyes shut and bears down. He looks pinched, like it pains him, only Robert knows it doesn’t. He likes the heavy press of Robert’s fingers when they first work their way inside him, how easily his body is willing to open up. Robert sits back on his ankles and pulls Aaron’s pants down so that he can pull one leg out, and with a bended knee, Robert can take them completely off him. He pushes at Aaron’s thighs so that he keeps his knees up for a second, just so he can survey his work.

Aaron’s dick is beautiful. Thick, veined and red, almost purple, it is now pressing against his belly when Robert leans down and swipes his tongue over it, coming back with salt, and it forces Aaron to tilt his hips down like he’s trying to get away from it. Robert lets Aaron’s legs drop as he moves up again to grab a condom. His own pants only go as far as his knees as Aaron grabs a pillow to shove under himself. Robert gives his own dick an experimental tug and hisses with how raw it feels. He rolls the condom down and slicks himself up in broad strokes.

Aaron is watching him again. Robert feels his chest open and cave at the same time, and with one hand under Aaron’s thigh to hold him open, the other leg falling wide to keep him spread, Robert leans down to line himself up. It never gets easier to push into Aaron. It’s so hot inside him that Robert feels like he’s being scorched every time, all his sins burned away by how easy it is between them. He falls forward onto his hands either side of Aaron’s shoulders as Aaron tilts his chin up for a wet, open mouthed kiss to hide his soft moans as Robert works his way inside him.

Normally, Robert talks. His mouth streams words of encouragement, observation and desire, but this time he can’t make himself start. He just ends up caught in Aaron’s blue eyes as they pin him with their intensity, their mouths still slipping against each other, but do little more than actual breathing. Robert lets his hips snap gently, the soft drag sending tingles up his spine. Aaron arches his back and pushes down on Robert when he does, It spikes the heat in Robert’s stomach that much more. They work this rhythm between them, Robert pulling back and Aaron pushing counterpoint on Robert’s roll forwards. Aaron’s fingers brush against his chest, high up near his throat, and he knows he doesn’t have to look to know he’s red there. Those fingers trail, down across his ribs, over his belly, till they reach behind him and grip his arse tight to help push him deeper inside.

Robert kisses Aaron softly, his nose brushing up against his in an eskimo kiss, “Touch yourself.”

Aaron slips his other hand between them and Robert can feel his knuckles against the hair on his own stomach that leads to his cock. He doesn’t strip himself hard, but slow and easy like the drive of Robert’s hips. Robert’s lip is trembling when his orgasm washes over him, pooling heat in at the bottom of his back and through to his balls. He grips the sheet under Aaron, curling his hands up tight and lets his body pour into the condom. Aaron bumps his nose against Robert’s cheek and spills up onto his own skin, mixing with the light sheen of his sweat. The hand not covered in come scratches tingles at the base of Robert’s skull, easing him down so that he lays on Aaron’s chest. He breathes and listens to Aaron breathe in the quiet of their room.

They don’t talk when Robert slips from Aaron’s body, or when he fetches a flannel to wipe them both clean. They don’t even talk in the aftermath. Aaron simply goes back to rubbing Robert’s stomach until they both fall asleep. Robert doesn’t question it. He never questions it. Maybe if he did, he wouldn’t have fallen so hard without ever noticing it.

Chapter Text

People said he shouldn’t have taken him back, that it broke once and it’ll break again, but those people don’t know Robert.

They don’t know that he lies on Aaron’s chest every night, sleeping like he hasn’t a care in the world, with his brow smooth of any pain, frustration or heartbreak. That Aaron can stroke fingers down his back and he doesn’t even twitch because he feels safe in his arms.

They definitely don’t know that when he wakes up and makes Aaron a cup of tea, he hovers for a minute to see if Aaron likes it – he’s been making it the same way for years so it’s never not going to be fine, but he has to make sure just in case.

They don’t know that Robert cooks, but has several meltdowns in the process because he wants it to be perfect. Nothing less for his family. He doesn’t say that, but it’s in every move he makes.

They can’t even begin to know that a man like Robert clings to Aaron under the guise of a cuddle on the sofa when they watch telly, his hands encircling Aaron’s wrists because there is a real fear for him that Aaron will disappear again and he won’t get a second chance.

They only know a man that fails. Aaron knows a man that does everything he can to try. That’s why he took him back. For all the things he’s done wrong, Robert will never forget a single one, and he deserves the peace that their love can bring him. ‘Cause that’s Aaron’s peace.

They’re so busy looking at Robert, they don’t know how much Aaron loves him too.

Chapter Text

Robert has a fascination with Aaron’s neck. It isn’t all the time, but it’s something he obviously craves.

Aaron’ll be buttering bread in the kitchen when Robert comes up behind him and brushes his nose against the bottom of his hairline, his lips a ghost of a kiss before he touches Aaron’s skin.

When they’re in public, he cups the back of Aaron’s neck with his whole hand and everyone thinks they’re being mate-y, but Aaron knows that Robert likes the feel of it under his palm.

He also lies on the sofa, cradled between Aaron’s thighs when his hand will come up and cup Aaron’s throat, his thumb resting at the hollow so he can feel the flutter of Aaron’s pulse.

When they kiss, his hands will trap Aaron’s face, his fingers digging slightly into his jaw as Robert’s tongue swipes against his, pressing hotly inside. He ignores Aaron’s little moans of shock, just swallowing them down as he keeps working his mouth over his, those hands sliding down and holding him in a hollow hold as they frame Aaron like he’s glass.

They lie in bed in the morning, if they both wake up early enough, and Robert always tucks his face into the space between Aaron’s neck and his shoulder. At first, he just breathes Aaron in, a happy little sigh and smile that Aaron can feel. After that, he doesn’t move other than to lick wet stripes on Aaron’s skin before he grazes his hand down Aaron’s stomach to brush over him. He keeps his face there the whole time until Aaron comes, shaking and tingling, the wet breaths Robert breathes against him are a port in the storm. Something he can always rely on.

When he’s deep inside Aaron, they share breaths, lips catching, eyes focused on each other until Robert can’t deny it anymore and he leans down to bite the muscle of Aaron’s neck bluntly, worrying the skin between his teeth before he soothes any hurt with his tongue. Aaron holds the back of his head so that he stays pressed there until he shudders as he comes, his sobs muffled by the purpling flesh.

Probably the most innocent, and the rarest of them all, is when Robert is upset and Aaron holds his own hand against Robert’s throat and Robert mirrors him, his eyes watering as he tries not to let his tears fall. He seems to take the most comfort from that. He never truly calms down until Aaron presses in a little with his thumb, nothing hard, but something enough to remind Robert that he’s Aaron’s, and that whatever happens to him, he belongs to him and he isn’t going anywhere.

It isn’t all the time, but it’s enough.

Chapter Text

They get a new corner sofa, one with the bit on the end that makes it into a sort of chaise lounge type thing where they can both lay on it together and not annoy Liv with their cuddling antics. It’s soft, grey and velvety, and Aaron even cared enough to put input on the design, so they’re both well chuffed when they get to sit down on it later that night with no one around to disturb their snuggle time.

Robert sits so that his back is up against the body of the seat and Aaron is between his spread legs, chest resting on Robert as he flicks You’ve Been Framed on for a laugh. Aaron finds the stupidest shit funny and he’s chuckling away to himself while Robert hooks his arms around Aaron’s waist. Aaron leans back more so that his head is on Robert’s shoulder as he points to a man who jumps off a trampoline and splats onto his low slung bungalow roof.

Aaron’s hair is soft from his shower and it curls invitingly against Robert’s skin when he turns to talk to him, pointing out all the dog clips (his favourites). Robert flexes and tightens his fingers against Aaron’s belly, which he doesn’t notice, his eyes back on the screen, and Robert can’t help himself before he slides his open palms down onto Aaron’s thighs. There’s a tiny hitch of his breathing that tells Robert he feels it, but he carries on talking about the telly as Robert thumbs his hip creases through his joggers.

He turns his head and his mouth breathes hotly against Aaron’s ear. He doesn’t say anything, just presses light kisses to Aaron’s skin and cups his hand over Aaron’s dick as it slowly stiffens up with every moment and heavy breath that passes. Aaron tries to stay focused, wedding cock ups where total knobs fall through tables is everyone’s favourite past time, but he wriggles a little when Robert scrapes his earlobe with his teeth.

Robert slips his hands under Aaron’s trackies and pants, pulling him so that the head of his dick breaches the air, and Aaron shifts, moving to allow Robert to hold him more firmly in his hand. He nudges Aaron’s head to the side with his nose before licking a wide wet stripe on his throat before blowing on it lightly. He moves his fingers, slow rubs to fatten him up, getting Aaron thicker and thicker in Robert’s hand.

“That feels really good, Aaron, how heavy you are in my hand.” He swipes his index finger over his tip and Aaron jerks lightly against him. He keeps his mouth tight to Aaron’s skin, making sure his lips graze him with every word he speaks and he finishes his sentences with soft kisses.

“Pull your top up.”

Aaron keeps his eyes forward as he pulls the fabric up, his nipples hardening in the cooler air, “Roll ‘em.”

Robert licks his lips and keeps them hovering over Aaron’s skin as he watches his husband pinch and ride the pleasure he creates in his own body. He slides back up the head of Aaron’s cock where he’s starting to moisten and Robert eases him along with focused rubs on the underside of his foreskin. Aaron shakes a little bit with it all, his head tilting further away from Robert and his neck pushing against Robert’s mouth.

He obliges, letting open mouthed breaths fall from his lips as he curls around Aaron tightly and strokes him harder. “Yes, Aaron, come on.”

Aaron starts to give up little moaning sounds from his throat as he rocks back and forth, rubbing his arse deliciously against Robert’s dick too. Robert can’t help but shove against Aaron, who rolls back again, and they start humping dryly against each other. Robert’s lips tremble against Aaron’s skin.

Aaron lets himself go, tries to reach up to hold Robert against him, but Robert bites his shoulder, “No, keep going.”

So, his hands go back, and Robert moves his legs so that they hook over Aaron’s, trapping him more tightly against Robert’s cock, “That’s it, you’re right there.”

Aaron pinches again and twists, letting out a shocked cry, and filling his pants with come. Robert kisses his neck and cups his balls to help him keep driving back. It doesn’t take much as Robert pulses inside his jeans and they darken where the tip of his cock is.

Now Robert doesn’t argue when Aaron leans back and holds his head against him, Robert’s mouth dropping a hundred small kisses on Aaron’s skin as he comes down from his high.

“Mmm.” Robert hums, “Good way to christen the sofa. And no come stains.”

Chapter Text

Robert has always been a popular kid, with a waxed up hairdo and a skinny tie, people gravitate towards him, and always have done. Aaron, his oldest friend on the other hand, glares at him from his dinner table three rows away, his other friend, Adam, chatting away at his side. They had spent this summer together inside each other’s pockets like they always did, Adam off in Greece for the annual family holiday, and Robert skiving from his responsibilities. The difference being, it had been the first time Robert had ever been able to vocalise the soft feeling in his gut that he has always held inside when he was with Aaron.

It was the first day of summer, both a little drunk on beer, they sat on a hill passing the time, Aaron’s current addiction to cheap cigarettes that he nicks from his mum’s pub leaving smoke curling between them. They passed one between them and Robert tried not to think about how it was almost like they were sharing a kiss. In the end, Aaron was stronger than him, his chin tilted down as he nudged Robert’s nose and waited for him to close the space between them. At first, it was a soft touch of mouths, all questioning hesitancy, before Robert slid his fingers through Aaron’s hair and grabbed hold of him as he fell back into the grass. Aaron had welcomed the trickle of Robert’s feelings in that kiss and in their haste, they flooded out in the open, his forehead leaning against Aaron’s and his lips slick with requited emotion. He told him then and there what he had always feared to say, “I love you.

He gave Aaron things he never gave another person, had taken some too, their bond cemented in ways that friendship can never be and only love can. But like all things, he got scared, Andy threatening to tell their father when he saw Aaron leaving his room early one morning. Retaliation for an offence that Robert can’t even remember, but he had no proof. He also didn’t have nothing either. So Robert withdrew. Aaron grew more hostile with confusion, unanswered questions and vague explanations. When Robert pulled away from a kiss before it even touched his lips, Aaron got up and left, unwilling to play Robert’s games anymore. Robert couldn’t deny the crack it had left imprinted on his heart as he laid on his bed, unwilling to talk to anyone for days after it happened.

Summer eventually came to an end, and school started back up. Aaron’s resentment hadn’t eased, Robert feeling even more alone without him. He plasters on a smile and Aaron scowls at him harder before looking away. Robert blinks and refocuses his attentions on the new boy, Finn, as he’s herded into their group by his sister.

“He looks a bit rough, doesn’t he?” Finn follows Robert’s gaze.

Victoria frowns, “Aaron? He’s lovely, just likes to keep himself to himself. Too cool for all this. You used to hang out with him loads, didn’t you, Rob?”

He swallows thickly and tries to calmly nod, “Yeah, we just grew apart, I guess.”

 

 

After P.E., Robert has maths with Aaron in the lower building, their tables adjoining, a fact they used to love as they flicked bits of paper back and forth. Now, it’s like a hair trigger where he looks over and either Aaron isn’t paying attention to him or looking through him like he doesn’t exist.

The first time Aaron sleeps over after things change, the room takes a charge it never had before. Robert is used to pining, letting his eyes flit quickly over his friend in the spaces where he knows he won’t be seen. He doesn’t know how to deal with Aaron’s welcoming smile when he’s caught tracing the lines of Aaron’s shoulders as he turns around. His breathing stops when Aaron walks up to him, fingertips trailing down his arm before he laces their fingers together. He wants, of course he does, but having these softer more guarded parts of Aaron are much more than he could have ever hoped for. He thinks he’s dead when spiky, rough around the edges Aaron leans up on his toes to kiss Robert’s mouth. Robert just stands there a moment while Aaron lets him go to finish changing. His heart flutters against his ribcage, and he feels the emptiness of where Aaron’s hand was, so he can’t stop from ducking his head and kissing Aaron back when his head pops through the neck of his t-shirt. Aaron’s cheeks stain red as he smiles, getting onto Robert’s bed. That’s new too. Robert starts the night lying on his back and wakes up spooned by Aaron’s warmth, his arm tight around his waist.

It’s everything Robert didn’t know he could have hoped for.

Robert draws his lip over his bottom teeth as he tries to break the silence between them, Aaron now pointedly ignoring him.

Aaron obviously gets frustrated with Robert’s continued staring as his eyes flick up to meet his and he points his pencil at him, “You got summat to say, say it, or bugger off.”

He opens his mouth and he’s shushed by their teacher who makes them work in silence for 80% of the class and he’s mentally flipping the guy off because it’s the most Aaron has said to him in weeks.

Colin, a right bellend that Robert has had to make friends with because he’s pally with Andy, starts throwing bits of paper at them and Aaron is slowly getting more riled, any progress Robert might have made is gone in an instant.

“I want to talk to you,” Robert pleads on the off chance that Aaron will forgive a little.

His face is hard when he answers, “You’ve got nothing I wanna hear.”

 

 

He doesn’t see Aaron for the rest of the day. Instead, he works up the courage to go to the pub and Diane waves him through almost immediately with a packet of biscuits for ‘you lads’. He tries not to feel shame at the thought that she doesn’t know the truth. It digs deeper still when he realises that he doesn’t know if that’s because he wants to hide, or because he wants to tell the truth.

He runs up and knocks on Aaron’s door. 9 times out of 10 he won’t answer anyway, so he opens the door to Aaron lying on his bed, laptop open on his belly.

“What are you doin’ here?” On the surface, it’s confrontational, but Robert knows Aaron, can hear the tiredness in his voice.

He’s a little stunned for a moment as he remembers the last important memory that occured here.

“We don’t have to you know.” Aaron tells him, the offending ‘supplies’ between them and Robert can’t help the fear that riles up in his stomach. He isn’t scared of Aaron, or even sex, he just doesn’t know how it’s supposed to work, how anything is supposed to fit inside him there. Aaron is offering him to go back to blowjobs and tight handjobs that leave him blissed out and happy, but he wants this. He wants it with him.

“I know we don’t, I want to. I want you.”

So Aaron laid him out, leaving Robert’s sweaty t-shirt on and one sock as he clung to his biceps, his body confused as it tried to push away and draw Aaron in. Aaron sits inside him and kisses him softly, drawing all his attention away his arse and back onto them, what brought them here.

“I love you.”

It’s the first time he’s said it. Robert surges up to kiss him and Aaron drags a little out of him with delightful tingles that make Robert pull him in again. “Do that again.”

Aaron nods, his face a picture of concentration as he looks down at Robert’s thickening dick and back up to his face to make sure he isn’t in pain.

“Is it good?”

Robert nods, his body on almost autopilot as it rides higher and higher on the wave that Aaron builds inside him.

Aaron comes inside a condom and Robert makes him stay there and watch as he gets himself off. He didn’t know that he could do this and now he can. He kisses Aaron and pools come on the hollow of his belly. “I love you.”

Robert shakes his head, tries to free himself of that memory.

“I wanted to talk about earlier.”

Aaron puts his laptop to the side, “Well, I don’t.”

“Aaron.” He’s voice shakes because he knows he has no right to be here.

Aaron stares him down, his voice cold, “Robert.”

He wants to beg Aaron to listen but he has nothing he can say that will stop the hurt. “I’m sorry.”

There’s nothing and Aaron grabs his laptop up again, “Fine.”

“Call me, yeah?”

Aaron nods to show that he hears Robert, but he might as well have been speaking Japanese for all he cares. He just has to hope that some part of Aaron wants at least an explanation for what happened and is willing to hear it.

“You look good. Really good.” He says, partingly, his back is turned before he sees Aaron hesitate in replying. Neither one of them will ever know what Aaron was going to say.

Chapter Text

Robert curls up on his bed, arm tucked under his pillow while he stares at his phone. It’s a weak hope that Aaron will ring, but he can’t let it go. Each day the gap widens between them and Robert is drowning. It isn’t even completely about what they had. He misses jostling shoulders with Aaron while they played Fifa on his Playstation, the stupid stories he’d tell Robert about closing and how one woman left her bra on a bin outside. He misses Aaron like a physical ache in his chest. Sometimes he wishes he could claw the feeling out, hold it in his hand and crush it under his fingertips.

He’s sitting on his bed playing Crash Bandicoot when Aaron pushes open his door and chucks his backpack on the floor at the bottom of Robert’s bed.

“Hiya,” Aaron picks up the second controller, smile soft, and Robert can’t help but grin back at him.

They have the house to themselves, Robert having begged off from a family outing to the local faire that Victoria had mentioned.

It gives Robert a sense of peace that he hasn’t had since Andy collared him about Aaron sneaking out. It’s a respite from the dark looks he gives Robert across the dinner table as he waits for Robert to make a mistake. He takes the happy feeling and he translates it into leaning over and giving Aaron a kiss, catching him off guard, especially with how off he’s been.

“I love you.” He pecks his lips and gets up to turn the game off and pick something they both can play. Aaron catches his arm, his lip bitten between his teeth.

“Rob…”

He hums as Aaron pulls on his arm, getting him to come back down for another kiss, Aaron’s other hand cupping the back of his neck. He keeps pulling as he lies back on Robert’s bed and Robert situates himself over Aaron, holding himself up on his hands and knees as they trade wet kisses back and forth. Aaron’s hands push his trackies off his hips and he lets Aaron’s mouth go, his breath a sharp intake before Aaron rubs his nose against Robert’s.

“Not you. Me.”

There is a loaded silence because they haven’t done that. Robert swallows thickly as he searches Aaron’s face. He’s looking down, a little embarrassed, but the tiny flush tells him that he’s still keen.

“Okay.” He agrees, pulling off his bottoms and t-shirt while Aaron does the same. Robert settles himself between Aaron’s thighs and strokes his skin, watching for the things he likes and the things he loves.

When he finally gets inside Aaron, he doesn’t know how he did this. Everything is so hot and tight and nothing like the girls he’s slept with. He holds onto his pillow behind Aaron’s head and screws his eyes shut. Aaron rubs his back and kisses his forearm where he turns his head. Robert tries to put himself out of his mind, puts his focus back on Aaron as he swipes his tongue out over his bottom lip when he likes something. Instinctively, Robert hooks the inside of his elbow under one of Aaron’s knees and pulls his leg up, Aaron arching immediately and pulling Robert towards him.

“Are you okay?” He asks when Aaron doesn’t open his eyes, he nods and pushes his hand between them. He finally opens his eyes, his mouth dropping open and slick, and Robert can’t help but push his tongue inside. He steals Aaron’s moans into himself, taking all that he gives until he feels Aaron’s hand stop. He pulls away to watch him come, how he paints almost all the way up to his chest. He’s shivering, every twitch is a tiny pull that Robert can’t fight as Aaron’s body drags his orgasm from him. He chokes out a whine and flops down on top of Aaron, kissing the clammy skin under his collarbone.

Robert cleans them up and they redress as it’s still a little cold in Robert’s room despite them snuggling up under his duvet. He’s got his arms wrapped around Aaron when he thinks that it wouldn’t be so bad to live a life like this. He checks the time and his stomach drops. 10. Everyone will be back soon. He can’t be here. He can’t be like this. He can’t give Aaron up either. Aaron seems to sense the shift in him and he sits up.

“Rob?”

He’s looking at Aaron, Aaron, who he has loved forever, and he realises that he’s never going to be what he needs. He can’t even stand up to his own brother about how much he loves him. Aaron leans down to give him a kiss, to reassure whatever he sees on Robert’s face and Robert turns away. Aaron’s own face falls, Robert can see the moment his heart rends in two, and he’s screaming inside to fix it, but he just keeps his face blank. Aaron reads whatever he wants into that and gets out of the bed. He’s stuffing his things into his bag and Robert feels sick.

“Aaron.” His heart reaches his mouth before his brain does.

“Save it. I get it. You got what you wanted.” Aaron spits. “Hope it was worth it, making a mug out of me.”

No. Aaron, please.

He doesn’t stop, he shoves on his shoes and rips his arm away when Robert tries to catch it.

“Don’t touch me, right, or I’ll belt ya.”

Robert can’t hold it in anymore. It hurts too much, his eyes wet and he presses his face into the pillow he knows Aaron used to sleep on and he cries. He lets the sobs heave so deeply, he doesn’t hear his door snick open. He rubs his face against his pillow and sets his face into a scowl.

“You ever heard of knocking?” He all but shouts.

“Vic let me up,” Aaron shifts from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable with Robert’s upset, “So, talk.”

Chapter Text

It’s petulant, but after the police pick up Robert, Aaron goes home, up to his room and locks his door. He doesn’t need another lecture about how terrible Robert is or how he deserves what he gets. He has what he does because Aaron told him to do it.

He told him.

Aaron tries to wrestle the guilt as it rises up from the pit of his stomach and he can’t help but feel like this is his fault. He knew that Robert needed to tell the truth if he ever wanted a hope with his son, but he didn’t expect this. Part of him is glad of it in a way. Let them sling more mud and wash off that innocent bullshit they try to pull when consequences come knocking.

Let Robert come back and be vindicated, in part, for his schemes.

Aaron grabs the few bits of washing he’s left around his room: last night’s pants, trackies and a jumper when he sees Robert’s dirty clothes and towel piled up in the corner by the door to the en suite. He picks them up gently, Robert’s shirt heaped at the top, and Aaron almost thinks he can smell his aftershave.

He knows he shouldn’t, that it’s a bit weird, but he buries his nose in the collar of the blue fabric and inhales deeply. He was right. It smells just like Robert. He doesn’t know what it’s called, just that it used to disappear and reappear on top of their drawers when Robert ran out. It’s a fresh scent, Robert likes the smell of skin when Aaron just gets out of the shower, his nose dragging along the line of his collarbone before he licks any water droplets leftover.

Sometimes he’d make Aaron lay out on their bed, belly down, and kiss away all the water from his back before he pulled Aaron’s towel down and made him all sweaty again.

The combination of memories and Robert’s scent get Aaron warmed up in a way he hasn’t been in so long. He’s been hard, come often, but he hasn’t desired since he made his husband walk out their front door. Aaron drops everything but the shirt and takes it with him as he sits on the bed. He hesitates because he knows he shouldn’t. Even if no one will ever know, he will. He touches it to his face again and he almost feels the longing in his belly like a physical pang. Robert, despite his pain and his bruises, had looked so good. Maybe the best he’s ever looked. With nothing to focus on but himself and his son, he takes better care of himself than Aaron can ever remember him doing. That hurts. But it also excites him. He can visualise perfectly the cut and press of Robert’s muscles under his skin, the breadth of his shoulders as he stood and helped Aaron fold towels like they were anything other than what they are.

He’s pressing against his trousers, heavy and thick, and he has to decide.

There’s a sort of hot shame that comes with how good it feels to get his fingers on his dick. He pulls himself out of his underwear and his knuckles fight against his waistband as he strokes, but Aaron doesn’t care. He shuffles up the bed so that he’s laying down, Robert’s shirt in one hand, his cock in the other and he bites his lip as his heart starts to race. He pulls his hand away to spit on it and he spreads it over the tip, making a tight channel to push into. His toes curl and he can’t help but bring the shirt back to his face. The way it covers his nose and mouth is almost like when Robert presses inside him and he can’t help but shove his face into Robert’s pillow and take comfort from that as Robert rides him hard.

Aaron wets his fingers with pre-come fast, his breathing shaky as little moans escape him, although they are muffled by fabric. He drags his hand from the base to the tip before curling back down and that’s what gets him to where he needs to be going. He pulls his legs up, feet planted, his knees drifting outward as his stomach starts to clench a little. It doesn’t make a sound in the room, but Aaron calls Robert’s name into his shirt as if he were here as he spills inside his own clothes. He lets his hand drop, and he can’t smell Robert’s smell anymore and that just makes him feel cold and alone.

Tears prick his eyes.

Fuck you, Robert.

We were happy.

They were broken, Aaron knows, knew even then, but they were happy. He wanted to hold onto that so badly that he was left a bloodied and broken mess, and part of him would take that back in a heartbeat if that meant he could have Robert back too.

The tears fall.

Aaron rubs his arm over his eyes before he awkwardly grabs a towel from the pile and stuffs it inside his pants with his hand to wipe himself when he realises what it is.

How can you be here and not be here.

Robert’s towel hits Aaron’s clothes with a soft thud, but Aaron decides to keep Robert’s clothes separate. Maybe it’s a little maudlin, or shrine-like, but he folds them up and puts them on his table for washing later. Let him keep what little bits of Robert he has left.

He thinks back to the police car and he realises with a cold trickle of dread: he doesn’t have any.

Chapter Text

Aaron is staring at him and Robert finds, horrifyingly, that he can’t stop crying. He just carries on, wiping his nose on his sleeve, until Aaron comes up in front of him and holds Robert’s face against his stomach. Gentle fingers rub the back of his head and Robert clings to his shirt by the hem and presses his face into the material like it will somehow hide him. It finally slows and Robert is able to get control of himself again. He tries not to think about the wet patch he’s left on Aaron’s shirt with his melodrama, but it’s big and ugly because Aaron is wearing dark grey today instead of black.

“Sorry.” He mumbles and moves to offer him a shirt.

“Don’t worry about it, s’not why I’m here.” Aaron sits down on his bed, near the end and far away from him.

“Aaron—"

“Come on, Rob.” Aaron looks at him and Robert can see part of him is pleading. His pain is Aaron’s pain and vice versa.

“I got scared. Andy was pushing me, and I didn’t—I didn’t know what to do.” Robert finishes lamely.

Aaron seems to process it before he says, “I figured it was summat like that. You come to me, is what you do. Should have done.”

The correction to past tense hurts so much more.

“I don’t want that life, Robert. Where you punish me for other people’s shit.”

He starts, but Aaron stops him.

“I’m done being someone’s secret. Even if it’s for decent reasons. Even if I lov—even if I care. I want to be proud. I’m gonna come out.”

“What?”

Aaron shrugs, “I’m gay and I’m done try’na hide it.”

“I’m not.” It’s out immediately before he can really stop it, but he knows it’s true. He’s not.

“Okay.” Except the way Aaron says it gets Robert’s back up.

“What, you think I am?”

Aaron is flippant: “Facts are facts, Rob.”

“I like girls and,” he rolls his shoulders back, “I love you. I dunno what that means, but I’m not gay.”

“Fine, you’re not gay. Doesn’t change anything. I’m done.” Aaron looks at him like it’s all so blasé.

Robert feels a little bit left out in the cold, “Just like that?”

Aaron looks at him for a moment and Robert thinks he sees something crack, he waits, and Aaron eventually sighs, “I wanted us to do it. Be together, properly.”

But you don’t want that lingers between them like a bad aftertaste.

It’s like there is a wall and it’s 10ft high and Robert is at the bottom with nothing but a spade. He doesn’t know what to do.

“I can’t—I don’t want to stop you.” He nods his head almost by rote. “I want you to be happy.”

Aaron slides over so that he’s next to Robert and he brushes his thumb over Robert’s cheek before he gives him a kiss. Robert sighs and Aaron lets him go, standing up to leave.

“I want you to be happy too.” It’s earnest and honest, but it’s empty. He can never be happy without Aaron. He doesn’t know what that even looks like. “See ya later, Rob.”

He nods but doesn’t even look up when Aaron leaves.

They definitely just kissed. Robert can taste cigarettes and coke in his mouth and he feels hot where Aaron fell on top of him. More than that, he just feels happy in a way he hasn’t in a long time.

“You’re smiling.” Aaron tells him as if he thinks it’s weird and Robert just shoves at him. He’s lying in the cradle of Robert’s thighs on the grass, so he doesn’t go far, his back hitting Robert’s knee where it’s folded up.

“Shut up.” He counters but it’s weak. He bites his lip and leans up and almost kisses Aaron again, but stops in case Aaron doesn’t want it. It just ends up with them both staring at each other, nose to nose, and intimate.

Aaron twitches his and they both laugh until Aaron breathes, “Rob,” before he meets him. His mouth brazen as he thrusts his tongue at Robert’s lips. Robert doesn’t deny him, and his hands clutch at Aaron’s jacket, his mouth parts, and he slickly accepts what Aaron wants to give him. It’s perfect. Even better when he takes one hand and puts in on the back of Aaron’s head to hold him and he moans softly into Robert’s mouth. Aaron pulls away gently, his lips turned up into a smile and he runs his fingers over Robert’s mouth like he’s checking if it’s real too.

Robert’s heart is jackhammering in his chest when Aaron’s eyes catch his. They’re so blue and he loves that about them. They’re clear as day and they give Aaron away every time, and this time, it’s softness. Want. Pleasure. Happiness. Maybe love.

It’s that prospect that lets the words fall out of Robert before he’s ready, “I love you.”

Aaron blinks, but his eyes don’t change. He isn’t disgusted, or repulsed, he looks at Robert the same way he has always done. He tilts Robert’s chin back up from where he had instinctively lowered it and he kisses him again. No tongue. Nothing pushing or pressing. Just lips touching lips because they can, because now it gives him comfort. Their foreheads touch and they just take the moment for what it is. Them, together.

Aaron shifts after that, moving so that he can lay his head on Robert’s chest and they share another cigarette, Robert brushing Aaron’s hair back while he curls smoke over Robert’s chest. Nothing has changed and everything has changed.

Robert lies on his bed and wonders why it wasn’t enough. For either of them.

Chapter Text

In the end, Robert decides that Aaron isn’t serious. He isn’t going to come out. He thinks he would have if he was going to when Billy Graham shoved him to the ground and called him a fag when they were 14. Robert remembers standing behind Aaron, trying to hold back his chest as Billy cupped his bloody nose and called Robert Aaron’s boyfriend. It set Aaron off again until a teacher grabbed him and stuffed him in a classroom to cool off, detention for a week given. Robert came looking for him later and there was the bloom of a bruise starting under his left eye.

“Hiya,” he says as he sits down on the table in front of Aaron. He’s drawn a chair back to lean against the wall and he’s glaring at anyone who passes him.

He concedes to Robert, unfolding his arms and sitting forward. Robert gives him a tight smile, “You alright?”

“They called me mum. She ain’t happy, but she wants them to go after Billy too. Ain’t fair and all that.”

“What he said? He’s just a dick.” Robert scoffs and Aaron looks at him, uncomfortable.  

There’s something in the air that Robert doesn’t quite understand. “Aaron?”

He looks down at the floor. He’s hiding something and Robert didn’t think they did that. Not even when Aaron first nicked a packet of crisps behind the bar when he was 9. Robert waits and Aaron rubs angrily at his face and Robert’s heart speeds up because he knows now that Aaron is crying.

It clicks. He didn’t hit Billy because Billy called him gay, he did it because he is.

“So what?” Robert tells him. “Tons of people are. They said Freddie Mercury was and he’s cool.”

Aaron looks up at him with red rimmed eyes and a kind of gratitude that Robert will never forget. He swallows down the lie, which is that his heart skipped a beat when he realised it. Not because he was upset, but because he was happy. He can’t deny that he looks at Aaron, and other boys, as much as he looks at other girls, but he can’t force those words to come out.

“Thanks, Rob.” Aaron offers his hand out for Robert to slap and he does.

“What are friends for?”

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

But they never spoke of it again after that. Robert never asked him about boys he liked, he never wanted to know that Aaron would be anything less than his. In fact, he got worse at stealing Aaron’s time. He figured that with this new realisation that Aaron might get a boyfriend and Robert would be left on the sidelines to watch the person he shared everything with, share it with someone else.

And so, life carried on. Aaron didn’t meet anyone because he never let himself. He remained as gruff and aggressive as he had always been, and Robert thanked God every day for it.

Aaron isn’t going to come out, Robert tells himself.

 

 

When he gets to school later, he’s on high alert. He doesn’t say anything, but he flips through English like he’s on another planet and his Business Studies teacher calls him on his absent-mindedness and he doesn’t even care. There is not one word or peep from or about Aaron. Andy picks him up on it as they head out for morning break.

“What’s with you?”

Robert glares at him, “Nothin’”

Andy jostles him and Robert shoves him off, Victoria coming up to them as they walk over to the picnic tables.

“Hey!” She scolds like she’s their mother and while Andy has the sense to look mildly apologetic, Robert stares her down.

Katie nods to them as they sit and she asks, “Where’s Finn?”

Robert isn’t his keeper, so he shrugs, but Vic gestures behind her, “Caught him talking to Aaron earlier.”

He is indeed talking to Aaron, who is slightly leaning forward to listen despite being shorter than Finn and Robert feels his heart drop.

“They’re a bit close, aren’t they?” Andy comments as he pulls out a packet of crisps from his pocket.

“Is this about Finn being gay?” Vic turns up her level of disapproval by about 10, and Robert feels a chill as everything takes a worse turn. “He isn’t try’na jump ya or even fancy ya, so pack it in.”

Katie makes a face, “Yeah, but I can’t imagine what he’d have to say to Aaron of all people. Not really the emotionally supportive type, is he?”

Robert feels like he’s underwater, everything is slow, and his lungs are filling up till he can’t breathe. He stands up, everyone frowning at his abruptness and Andy grabs his sleeve.

“Sit down will ya?”

It all crystallises in that one moment. Andy took Aaron from him because he let him. He grabs his brother’s collar and punches him in the face. Andy still has hold of his sleeve, so he drags Robert down with him and they scuffle while Victoria and Katie shout at them to stop or they’ll get in trouble, but Robert can’t. The fire in his blood wants a return. His pain wants recompense.

Arms pull him off Andy and they’re both a little bloody, but he shoves against whoever stopped him and he turns to see that it’s Aaron, looking at him almost like he doesn’t know him.

Robert sniffs and wipes blood away with his hand, “You done?” He spits it, and no one reacts because Aaron just broke up their fight, but Aaron’s eyes flicker between pain and resolution. Robert is calling him out for leaving him and he knows it.

Good. Let it hurt.

Robert stalks off, but not before he ‘accidentally’ barges Finn who almost falls with the force of Robert’s shoulder.

He gets to the toilet before his body starts to shake, adrenaline giving way to pain, real pain, because he knows now that he’s lost Aaron and it’s all his fault.

Chapter Text

When Robert turns up at Aaron’s later he doesn’t want to talk.

Chas takes one look at him at her door and she closes it so that he can’t see past her, “Not you, Robert Sugden. I don’t know what you did to my Aaron—”

He folds his arms around himself and nods, waiting for whatever she has to say when she stops, “Robert?”

Her concern is too much. He feels his face crumple as fat tears run silently down his cheeks and she tries to give him a cuddle, but he hisses and pulls away from her.

Aaron is calling out behind Chas, he must have been in the kitchen, “Mum?”

“Don’t worry, love, it’s just Robert come to see ya.” She opens the door and moves aside so that he can pass. He doesn’t.

Aaron is standing behind Chas now with a face on, but she looks at him, “Get the extra sheets out will you, Robert is gonna stay here tonight, aren’t you, sweetheart?”

He nods because he’s grateful and he uncurls as much as he’s able to wrap his arms around her waist.

“Robert?” Aaron isn’t angry anymore, his face is pure concern as Chas waves him off.

It hasn’t been that long since his mum died and he remembers how she and Chas used to sit together in the pub, just watching him and Aaron play or knock off out to create innocent mischief. They weren’t natural friends, but they found it in each other for the sake of their two boys who bonded and never wanted to be separated.

Chas strokes his face to wipe his tears as she leads him to sit with her on the sofa before she gently puts her arm around his shoulders and hides his face in her neck.

“First off, do you need a doctor?” She asks him, and he doesn’t move other than to shake his head ‘no’. “Second—”

“Please don’t.” He whispers, pulling away and rubbing at his face.

“This isn’t okay, Robert. I’m sorry, but I can’t let it go.”

Aaron comes back down, sits on the coffee table in front of Robert, and asks: “Let what go?”

Chas puts her hand on Robert’s knee and when he doesn’t flinch, she gives it a squeeze. She stands up, “I’m just gonna make us all a cuppa, alright.”

“I got in trouble with me dad. For fighting with Andy.” Robert admits. He’s fought with Andy loads. There was a time when they were in a constant scrap what with their teenage hormones constantly making them at loggerheads, so Aaron looks at him like he’s lying. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

It’s sad and small, and he wants to fold up on himself, but his thighs are lancing pain with every move he makes.

“And the truth, Robert?” Aaron pushes. He’s hard, and Chas pulls him on it with a sharp call of his name.

Robert swallows what feel like knives as his eyes fill up again.

“He wanted to know why.”

Aaron looks at him, somewhat blankly and Robert tilts his head.

“So, I told him. I told him how Andy had been pushing me. Getting up my nose about stuff…”

He can’t say it. Not again. But he has to, for himself, and for Aaron.

“About you.”

Aaron’s face falls and he leans forward, like he wants to reach out, but can’t.

“He didn’t get it. He thought I should side with my brother over my friend. But you’re not my friend, are you?”

Chas puts down a milky, overly sweet if he had to guess, cup of tea in front of him and sits on the arm of the settee.

“I told him I love you and I wasn’t gonna be bullied for it.”

“And he—” Aaron gestures to him.

“Leathered me. Yeah.” He feels so ashamed, more tears track down his face and he slides a cushion onto his lap to try and use it as a barrier.

Aaron stands up, his anger is immediate, “Mum.”

Chas puts her hand out, “Aaron, no.”

“He can’t do that, Robert’s his son!” Aaron wipes his mouth and Chas stands up and rubs her hands over her son’s shoulders.

“I know, but don’t think about him, think about Robert. You let me deal with Jack.” She nods and she waits until Aaron nods back before she lets him go.

She brushes her hand over Robert’s hair and smiles sadly at him. “You were so brave, love, don’t forget that.”

Robert is just so tired. He’s still crying, but it’s like he’s just leaking because his body doesn’t know how to stop. Aaron sits down next to him, but he looks at him like he doesn’t know where to touch, so Robert just, as painlessly as he can, moves to lie his head on Aaron’s lap.

It’s just a random Saturday in the summer when Robert turns up at Aaron’s. He’s still up in his room, Chas tells him as he waves her off, taking the stairs two at a time.

The thing about Aaron is, ‘in his room’ translates to ‘still in bed’. Robert opens his door and Aaron is still a lump under the duvet that Robert flops on top of.

“Oi!” The lump shouts. Then Aaron pokes his head out and Robert can’t help but laugh at him, his hair going six different ways without any gel to hold it down. He likes the curls and Aaron is doing that a lot more since he mentioned it.

“Alright?” He asks as Aaron shoves at his face to get him to move.

“What time is it?” Aaron grouses as he throws off his quilt.

Robert pretends to check his imaginary watch, “Late. Why? You got somewhere to be?”

“Har har.” Aaron hates being woken up, but Robert would do it everyday for the rest of his life for that stupid frowny look on his face.

“Oh shut up and give us a kiss.” Robert mocks as he traps Aaron under him. Aaron tries to wriggle away, something about morning breath, but Robert won’t be denied. He gets Aaron when he tries to flip Robert over to pin him away and it just gives him the ammunition he needs pull Aaron’s shoulders down while he leans up for the smooch. He makes it loud and his lips smack and Aaron rolls his eyes. The smile that follows is small, but it’s there.

“Come on, time’s wasting.” Robert tells Aaron as he slaps his arse and rolls away.

In the end, most of their days are like that.

 

“I’m sorry.” Aaron tells him. Robert almost asks for what when he realises he doesn’t care. Sorry won’t change what happened. Sorry won’t make Robert any less than what he is. Now he’s free in a way he has never known. Free from his father’s expectation, free from Andy’s control, free to do what he wants, which is to love Aaron.

“I love you.”

Aaron looks shocked that that would be his reply, “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Chapter Text

It starts off with a feeling. Liv feels light for the first time she can remember. She hates the taste of vodka, it makes her want to throw up, but the more she drinks it, the higher she flies. So she sits on the grass with a stolen bottle from her mum’s and she watches the world turn, and for the first time she sees it go as the clouds blend and merge.

And she gets away with it.

Her mother thinks she must have drunk it between the three bottles of wine she sinks daily and she buys another one to replace it. Liv doesn’t take that the next time she wants a bit of peace and quiet, she moves onto the whisky that burns twice as much, but she’s angry so it suits her better.

She meets her brother not long after she discovers drinking. At first, she’s twisted and angry at him because their father made her think he was a liar. She downs a bottle of white when she realises what a fool she’s been. Aaron is good and kind and better. She cries because she knows she doesn’t have a chance with him.

He takes her in and she doesn’t need it to fly anymore. The ground is stable and things are better. She has her brother, she has a home, she’s better too.

Until it’s not.

They fight over their dad, they fight over Robert, Chas comes down on her like the outlier she is, and she can’t help but look for that blank headspace that alcohol brings her. It isn’t a lot of peace, but it’s more than she’s used to.

Aaron picks her up and takes her home, brushing her hair back after Chas puts her into her pyjamas. He cuddles her up on his chest and ignores her tears when she cries, only thumbing them away when they’re obviously too fat and she can’t see.

So, she lets it go again.

Then Aaron has to go away and Liv is going to be all alone. Robert hugs her and tells her she’s family, but he’ll never choose her. She picks tequila for that and when Robert finds her, she’s been sick and it’s everywhere. Her shame burns hot until he offers her his jacket and doesn’t tell a soul what happened. Maybe he’s finally family too.

It isn’t until she drinks spiked brandy that Robert has been plotting with that Liv realises she might have a problem. She wakes up in a hospital bed and people ask her questions like “how long?” and “why?” and she gets to lie and make things up to save Robert, but it mostly just saves her. ‘Cause what would they do if they knew the truth?

Aaron looks blindly in the other direction, his own problems huge, and Liv realises she doesn’t care. Let him have that and she can have this. She keeps a bottle of vodka under her bed because even now, she still needs to fly.

Chapter Text

No one’s first time together with another person is perfect. Inevitably someone bites too hard, catches you wrong, maybe one of you even gets a leg cramp, but you muddle through it.

It makes Robert hate it more that Aaron doesn’t do most of that.

He thinks about it the next day when he’s taking his morning shower and he can still feel the ghost of Aaron’s beard on his mouth and on his hips.

He wasn’t flawless. His grip slightly too tight before Robert came, but Robert liked it.

And Aaron likes to kiss, not just as foreplay or to even spike the mood, he constantly pulled Robert against him and caught his mouth with little kisses, small licks, anything to stop them from completely separating as they rode their pleasure together. Robert has never been one for it, but he humoured him, even enjoyed it by the end, biting teasingly as he trapped Aaron’s shoulders down with his hands so that he only gets kissed when Robert wanted him to. That was a fun addition.

His body though—his body was everything. Robert managed to get Aaron’s jeans down and off one leg as he felt the thickness of Aaron’s calves hook behind his arse and his thighs were dusted with smaller hairs that sent pinprick tingles of pleasure through his skin when they brushed up against him. Aaron’s top stayed down, no problem to Robert, but he shoved his hand up there just the same to feel the flatness of his belly, the way his muscles shifted underneath it as he tensed against Robert’s thrusts.

It also isn’t to say that Robert was perfect either. He caught Aaron unawares when he dragged him forward by arms caught under his knees and he barely caught himself on the back of one of the car seats before he fell into one of the foot wells. Robert thinks he minded it less because it let Robert fold him in half, legs over his shoulders, and drive deep inside him like they both wanted.

He also has an inconvenient moment when he hits his head on the ceiling of the car and stops to rub it only to get a slap against his hip from Aaron for stopping. Robert pinches his nipple in retaliation. They end up with their hands laced together above Aaron’s head to stop them both from messing around, only it kept Robert right in Aaron’s face, both of them flitted their eyes down to each others mouths where they were open, wet and panting. Robert doesn’t think he’s ever wanted until he had to hold himself back from shoving his tongue inside Aaron’s mouth. It would have been wanted, but because it was is why he couldn’t. He couldn’t let Aaron have everything. Not all at once.

All in all, it’s not perfect but it’s good. Better than Robert had anticipated. His dick is stirring as he runs through the events again in his mind and he tells himself he isn’t going to entertain it. Aaron was a one-time deal. The intrigue and enigma of an openly gay man in the village who takes no prisoners. He doesn’t want Aaron. He wants the idea of Aaron.

He blinks at the steamy shower door and realises that it’s true. He does want the idea of Aaron and the actuality too. The prideful, aggressive man who trembled before he came, hands freed moments before to grasp Robert’s head to hold him there as he kissed him to hide his moans. His soft hesitancy before Robert got his back up. There are layers to Aaron that Robert can’t help but want to peel off. If he gets to do it while he appreciates that handsome face and fuckable body, who is he to argue?

He glances down, the shower has been beating down on him steadily and it’s sending little sparks of warmth up his spine as he eases himself into his hand. It doesn’t take a lot, his thoughts of Aaron, the soft cries he gave when Robert jolted his hips against him alone are enough to get him off. The physical evidence washes away but the mental picture remains. He’ll have him again, he knows it. It’s just a matter of when.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe I let you convince me—”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Robert huffs a laugh behind him and rubs his back.

“In the same direction as not getting nicked!” Aaron lets his head drop between his shoulders as his fingers valiantly claw at smooth metal, but gains no purchase. Robert is deep inside him, pressing him over the bonnet of his car in the middle of nowhere, where only the dropping leaves keep them company. In theory. “God, hurry up.”

He gets a smack across his arse for that one, but it’s less about Robert finishing, and more that he’s been thrusting incrementally slow, just dragging himself inside Aaron’s body to tease him and spike his want. He tries to dig his fingers in again and it still doesn’t work. He groans frustratedly in his throat. Robert palms a hand over him and he jerks forward at the touch, trying to catch more of it, but it’s only another tease.

Robert.”

“Hmm?” His voice is even, smug almost, and Aaron wants to smack him one.

“Do me.” It’s fuck me, fuck you, fuck this all rolled into one irritated command.

Robert spreads his cheeks to the cooler air and Aaron regrets it all, his dick steadily leaking as he feels exposed to Robert’s gaze. His fingers press delightfully into Aaron’s skin, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough. His head thunks down between his arms as he rolls his forehead on the bonnet. Robert’s hands come to rest either side of his arms, his cock pressing even deeper inside and Aaron could cry as he hisses his pleasure. He chokes a little as Robert kicks his hips up, jostling thrusts designed to unhinge him with their intermittency. He shakes his head and Robert kisses his neck, lets his mouth breathe wetly next to Aaron’s ear as he moans softly, teeth grazing on his earlobe on a particularly hard thrust.

“Jesus, come on.” Aaron is plaintive, he’s had enough, it’s too much. Robert slips his hand between Aaron’s thighs and strokes him with increasing pressure. It’s good now, he’s getting somewhere as he leans his head back on Robert’s shoulder and helps push into his fist. His balls draw up and he paints come onto the side of his car and he doesn’t care. He shivers as Robert keeps rubbing the come out of him and welcomes the hard drive of Robert’s hips against his arse cheeks when he comes with a keening cry against Aaron’s throat.

Robert holds him up with arms around his waist, his nose tucked into the back of Aaron’s jumper now, their pants and jeans still around their thighs.

“Mmm, that was good.” Robert tells him and Aaron winces as he realises the lube is drying up.

“Great, we’ll mark it out of ten.” He grumbles, Robert just shoves his nose against the back of Aaron’s head like ‘give over’ and slowly extracts himself from Aaron’s body. He cleans them both up and Aaron tucks himself back into his jeans and gives his car a quick wipe. Good enough, he decides.

“You know, coming is supposed to be relaxing.” Robert comments as he gets back into the driver’s seat, somehow commandeering Aaron’s car to drive as well as his own.

Aaron closes his door and deadpans, “Well, they ain’t fucking you, are they?”

Robert laughs, and secretly Aaron does melt into his seat a bit, the heating blowing out gently and keeping him toasty warm. And if he has a little doze on their way home because of it, who is going to believe Robert?

Chapter Text

Aaron is bouncing his knee in the relatives room, biting on a thumbnail he doesn’t have when the door opens again. The nurse who met them at the A&E entrance comes in and hands him the bag of Robert’s things, “Normally we get consent from the patient to lock up their valubles in a drawer but Mr Sugden wasn’t conscious when they brought him in.”

He nods, not really hearing what she’s saying as he picks out Robert’s wallet, his keys and his 2nd favourite watch before he frowns. He remembers from his own surgery that he wasn’t allowed to wear his ring.

“Yeah, uh, where’s his ring?” He asks, looking up.

The nurse looks at him blankly, “Ring? There wasn’t a ring.”

Aaron looks again, in the flaps of Robert’s wallet, only there’s nothing there.

“His wedding ring. It’s platinum with,” he motions for the bits either edge of the band and it doesn’t make any sense to either of them, “it has ‘you know?’ engraved on the inside of it.”

Aaron didn’t end up getting their coin engraved, but Robert had humoured him enough to hand over his ring for a few hours one afternoon when Aaron asked. Come on, it’ll be special, Aaron had cajoled. He hadn’t even decided what he wanted to have done at that point, but he liked the idea of something verbal to mark the physical. He only decided the moment he walked through the door at the jewellers, smiling while he wrote down what he wanted. Robert’s has ‘You know?’ and Aaron’s ‘I know’, two pieces and a phrase that only made sense together, fit together, went together. Just like them.

“He wouldn’t have taken it off. Mum?”

His mum is looking at him with a shake of her head, she doesn’t get it either.

“Well, where is it?” He says forcefully as he stands. The nurse takes Aaron’s sudden outburst in her stride as Chas catches the hem of his hoodie.

“I haven’t seen it, but I’ll let you know if it turns up, okay?” She leaves them with a sympathetic smile and a closed door.

“Aaron, love, come on.” Chas tries to soothe him, but he doesn’t get it. Robert never took his ring off. Not when Aaron did, not when his son was born, not even when Aaron was forced to tell him he had a date.

He sits back down, but still keyed up, “He didn’t take it off. He didn’t.”

Except maybe he did. Aaron wipes at his face and lets his mum pull him into a cuddle.

“I love him.” He says between soft sobs that he can’t stop.

He hears soft hushing as a hand strokes the back of his head, “I know, sweetheart, I know.”

“I can’t—I can’t lose ‘im.”

“You won’t, I promise you. Robert’s a survivor.” Chas laughs despite herself because they both know it’s true, but it’s not given that he’ll survive this. It was so cold out when they found him without his jacket on, his head bleeding by the side of the road. If Aaron had just been with him.

In the end, Aaron whispers that he can’t until his tears dry up and he falls asleep on his mum’s shoulder. They can try to find his ring, that doesn’t matter, it’s having the man that the ring belongs to at the end of it and Aaron can’t bear the thought of ever losing that.

Chapter Text

“Are you actually under that duvet, or not?” Robert asks the huddle on the sofa.

Aaron pulls the mini hood he’s made of their duvet down, his nose red and snuffily as he glares at his husband.

“It lives!”

“Watch it,” he grouses as he takes another tissue from box, wiping what feels like an oncoming drip.

Robert folds his arms and smirks, “Or what? You’ll cough on me? Come on, back up to bed with you. Stop languishing on the sofa, it’s too small.”

Aaron pulls the duvet tighter when Robert goes to help him up and he stops when he sees Aaron do it.

“What?” He looks concerned now, and Aaron feels ridiculous.

Robert gets down so that he’s crouching in front of Aaron, wide eyes and waiting for some big relevation.

He mumbles.

A hand squeezes his knee, “Didn’t quite catch that.”

“I don’t wanna be by myself.”

Robert’s whole face softens as he awws in the back of his throat.

“Sod off!” Aaron tucks himself under the duvet again and Robert grabs at where his head is and rubs it.

“Come on, grumpy, don’t be like that. It’s cute.”

He huffs and doesn’t move.

“Aaron.”

Nothing.

“Aaron.”

He peeks out again. Robert grabs at his face and gives him a soft kiss on the lips and pecks him on the tip of his nose.

“If I promise to be right up, will you go? You’re not getting better down here.” There’s a note of pleading to it, like Robert can’t bear to see him poorly.

“I love you.” That was pleading, and Aaron is weak for it. He nods once and Robert smiles brightly at him.

“Atta boy.” He helps Aaron up with hands under his blanket covered arms and watches as he plods back up the stairs.

He does feel better lying in his own bed, but it’s quiet and he has nothing to do, his ears all bunged up with what feels like a ton of wax and cold.

Robert puts a hot Lemsip by his side of the bed and cuddles up to the burrito shape he’s still lying in.

“I know you don’t like it, but it’s better for you to be in bed.” Robert manages to free him enough so that his nose tickles the back of his neck. Aaron feels truly horrible as his eyes prick with tears because they’re so grimy and sore.

Although, as bad as he feels, he finds that he falls asleep quickly like that, Robert’s hand rubbing flatly up and down his arm. He wakes up, drinks the now cold Lemsip, wincing as he does, and unravels himself. Robert has fallen asleep too, all soft eyelashes against freckled cheeks and plush lips open where he breathes. He’s stupidly handsome and Aaron can’t help but look at him.

Robert wakes up with a shock, like he had a strong dream or a nightmare and he blinks a few times at Aaron before he realises it’s him.

“Y’alright?” Aaron asks, cup still in hand. He shakes his head, bottom lip pouty and morose. “What is it?”

“I think I’m getting your cold.”

Chapter Text

Robert isn’t proud of it, but there are times when he falters in their relationship. He doesn’t make a mistake, necessarily, but he feels incredibly undeserving of Aaron after everything and he can’t let the thoughts go that he might have been better having stayed away from Robert. Normally, Aaron gives his hand a squeeze or gives him a kiss because he understands that Robert wobbles. He does too. What’s different now is that there’s a shoebox at the bottom of their cupboard he’s never seen before. It’s full of memories Robert doesn’t know.

Aaron is folding the duvet up over himself and rubbing his face into the cold side of his pillow like he always does when Robert flicks off the little telly they have in their room for the news while Robert gets dressed in the morning. Or that’s what it’s supposed to be for, but they had the Virgin hooked up not so long ago and they’ve been bingeing Stranger Things on Netflix. Aaron wants to watch The Punisher next and the big comic book nerd that Robert is, is delighted.

“I saw your box.” Robert says quietly as he pulls his socks off. He gets cold feet, but Aaron hates socks in bed more.

He looks up at Robert with confusion for a second before he nods, “Oh yeah, Mum brought it round, I left it my cupboard in there. Completely forgot about it.”

“Do you wanna…” He slides under the duvet too, only he’s still sitting up, “talk about it?”

“No.” It’s not harsh, more put out, like why would he want to.

“It’s okay if you do, I’m here for ya.”

“I don’t.”

Robert should stop, but he pushes again, “It’s alright—"

“Robert.” It’s final. Aaron doesn’t want to talk, he turns to face away from Robert, his back a tense line.

“Hey,” he says, softly.

Aaron punches his pillow to fluff it up, but doesn’t respond.

“I didn’t mean to open an old wound. It’s just…”

The box is full of Jackson’s things, and they never talk about him. Not even in passing. Sometimes Robert wonders if Aaron would have ever told him about Jackson if he didn’t already know. It’s like his love for him lives inside a vault that no one but Aaron is allowed to touch, which is fine. Robert doesn’t begrudge Aaron the love he shared before they met, he’s loved others too. It’s just Jackson was a huge part of Aaron’s life, and of what makes Aaron, Aaron.

“You changed everything for me. He changed everything for you.”

“But now I’m with you so it don’t matter.” His voice is even, but he can hear the frustration in it.

Robert nods even though Aaron can’t see him, and it opens up that little dark part of his heart that never truly lets it go: “But would you be if he was still here?”

That gets Aaron to turn back over, his brows drawn in, a cross between incredulous and angry.

“Aaron, you loved him. Love him. Maybe more than me, and you never talk about him.”

“I loved him, yeah, but I don’t love him more than you.”

“After everything I’ve put you through…”

“Robert—” Aaron sits up now, leaning against the headboard. “You know how with Katie, everything was bright and new. I never had that with girls, they weren’t, it wasn’t—it wasn’t who I was. When I met Jackson, it was new.”

Robert appreciates that this is probably the most Aaron has ever said on the subject. Meeting Jackson gave him the butterflies he never knew he was missing. To feel true desire for someone when they kissed you, to no longer feel like everything is a lie.

“And you think it’ll last forever, you’ll love ‘em forever and you owe ‘em everything for that.”

He nods again, he didn’t think twice about destroying his family when Katie said yes to him. It was one good moment where he just loved.

“But it weren’t perfect. We fought, he tried to push me away, I was stubborn, we were, y’know, young.”

Robert slides down so that he’s lying on his pillow and Aaron doing the same, maintaining eye contact with Robert so he knows his words are true.

“You’re right, he did teach me to be who I am, but he didn’t make me that way. I loved ‘im, but it was never like what I have with you.” Aaron sounds almost awed in the way he says it, “He said I’d know. When I fell in love, properly, and I thought he was having me on.”

A calloused palm cups Robert’s cheek, thumb rubbing under his eye, “He made me right for you.”

Robert frowns, “How’d you work that out?”

“I knew what I wanted. When you came in with your poncy swagger, I hated it, but it made you fit.” They both laugh at that. “I’d never had that. Just wanting someone so bad in my belly like I couldn’t breathe when you didn’t kiss me.”

It’s the first time he’s ever hearing of this and he cups his hand over Aaron’s hip under the duvet to encourage him.

“You were all inside my head and I couldn’t get you out. I didn’t want to either. Then you showed me that you listened to me, that you weren’t actually a dick and I wanted ya more.”

“You didn’t ask me to fall in love with you, but I did because I was ready. You were it, and I was sorted.”

Robert nudges at Aaron’s cheek with his nose and he tilts his head so that their mouths slide into place, lips pressing and unfolding emotion with every soft butterfly kiss Robert gives Aaron.

“You happy now?”

He nods slowly, “I just can’t imagine you giving that up if he were here.”

“If he were here we wouldn’t be together. Not now. We weren’t built to last.”

“And we are?”

“I should hope so!” Aaron pushes Robert to roll onto his back. He leaves his fingers splayed on Robert’s stomach and brushes his thumb slowly against the skin.

“I woulda left him for you.”

Robert almost doesn’t hear it, it’s so quiet, but he does, and he tries to catch Aaron’s eye where he’s looking down.

“I’m not proud of it, but you’d’a had me. I’d have hated myself, come clean, but I’d have done it.”

He doesn’t ask why even though he wants to. He already knows. Their love is transcendent, demanding and all-consuming. There are times that Robert thinks they didn’t stand a chance, forever doomed to love so desperately, but never the right way. He also thinks about their second wedding, their vows, and he knows they got there. They made it. They had to get it so wrong to eventually get it right.

“Thank you.” He tells Aaron, simply, “For sharing him. Must be hard.”

“Nah. He woulda hated ya, so he’d be glad you were worried.”

Robert blinks and then tackles his husband with ticklish fingers on his ribs.

“No, no, stop!”

They settle back down into the bed and Aaron nudges him with his arm, “I love ya, alright? Only you.”

He nods, “Me too.”

“Good.”

Eventually, Aaron shows him the photos, the magazine clippings and the life he and Jackson shared together. It’s a sad story, but an important one. He can’t imagine his husband any other way than what he is, so every now an’again, he thinks of Jackson and thanks him. He couldn’t have helped make a better man, and Robert’ll do everything in his power to make sure he keeps the torch burning. ‘Cause no one is more important than Aaron and they both knew that.

Chapter Text

The first few times, Robert doesn’t bring Sebastian in. Aaron waits, sits up scrolling on his phone, and waits for Robert to come back with him, but he never does. Robert looks sad and very tired when he folds himself back under the duvet.

“Alright?” Aaron asks him.

Robert nods, “Mmm, I think he’s getting a cold or summat.”

Aaron bites his lip and slides down so that he’s level with Robert, “Next time–next time you could…bring ‘im in here.”

Robert has a monitor and a whole host of other gadgets but Aaron has been reading and he knows at this age Seb should be with them.

“I…could.” Robert agrees, hesitantly.

Aaron leans over and gives Robert a kiss and turns off their light. It’s only then when it’s quiet that Robert asks him, “Would that be alright?”

He reaches for Robert, knowing the exact shape of him and pulls him in by his hip, “We’ll take good care of ‘im. Cold? What cold?”

~*~

It’s not long after that he hollers, his tiny little lungs screeching and Robert manages to calm him down, shushing him as he slowly rocks Sebastian against his chest. Aaron can feel the tension in Robert, how bad he feels for waking him up, but Aaron just holds his arms out.

Robert frowns and goes to offer him Seb, but Aaron shakes his head. He stands up and hugs his arms around them both. Robert looks about ready to cry when he realises that his son is finally sleeping. Not resting, not not screaming, actually sleeping.

“Put his crib in our room tomorrow, yeah?” Aaron tells him as he guides Robert over to the bed. He knows he won’t sleep for a while yet so he parks him down on his side and tucks his legs under the duvet as he keeps holding his little boy.

“Aaron…”

“Don’t, Rob, he’s ours now. Let me help ya.”

Aaron wakes up a few hours later and Robert is nowhere to be seen. He checks the monitor and Robert is in the nursery, putting Seb down when Aaron sees what he’s wearing: a soft black onesie that says ‘my daddies love me’.

 

***

 

There’s one moment that Robert wishes he had his phone out for. Sebastian is playing on his learning play mat in the living room, squishing and crackling the different textures when he reaches for Aaron. Aaron gets on the floor with him and starts pushing stuff. Robert just stands by the stairs and watches them as they both press the same scrunchy bit over and over, trying to outdo each other by the looks.

Seb stops though, tiny hand grabbing again and Aaron goes to pick him up and he says, “Dada.”

Aaron freezes, but Sebastian is still grabbing. Robert nudges Aaron, “Pick ‘im up then.”

“Robert…”

Aaron looks like a deer in headlights. Robert smiles because Seb has been calling him dada for most of the week.

“Aaron, Seb wants his dad, pick him up.”

It’s a moment he’s seen a thousand times and will see a thousand more, but it means more. It’s not hypothetical anymore, Seb looks at Aaron and sees his dad. Aaron scoops him up and sits him on his lap on the settee, bracing his back and holding his head as if he was just a little baby again.

Robert moves over and kisses the top of Aaron’s head, rubs a hand over his son’s, “My two best boys, huh.”

Seb looks at him excitedly, “Dada!”

“Yeah, son, you’ve got two, aren’t you lucky?”

 

***

 

Aaron doesn’t think he’s ever seen Robert so angry.

“Yes, I am his biological father,”

Aaron’s got hold of Seb in a cuddle on a chair in the school office, his face hidden in Aaron’s shoulder.

“But you just told a scared little boy that his dad is not his dad!”

The school phoned up about a scrape Seb had had and would someone come and collect him, and Aaron being the closest, popped himself in the car, drove up only to be told that he couldn’t take him.

“Who gave you the right? Aaron is his dad and has been for as long as he can remember!”

“We’re very sorry, Mr Sugden, but protocol…” A very skittish middle-aged receptionist tries, but Robert isn’t having it.

“Protocol? I don’t pay you to traumatise my son and upset my husband.”

Aaron knows he sounded panicky on the phone when he called Robert, completely out of his depth on how to fight the one true fact he can’t fight. He isn’t Seb’s biological blood.

“I want an apology in writing and you apologise to them both.” Robert’s face is flushed from his anger, finally looking back at Aaron and his face just drops a little.

Aaron tilts his head, and reaches out the one arm he’s got free and Robert comes and sits beside him so that Aaron can pull him into a hug.

“It’s alright.”

“It’s not alright.”

Seb finally peeps out from Aaron’s jumper, “Daddy?”

Robert smiles, “Yeah, sorry little man, Daddy got upset. He shouldn’t have shouted.”

A tiny nod and Aaron’s heart breaks a little bit for the times Seb will more than likely have to defend his dad’s relationship to people who don’t want to or won’t understand.

“It’s just…they were wrong to say Dad couldn’t take you home. They just didn’t understand is all.”

Another short nod and Aaron rubs his back as Robert leans forward to kiss his forehead. 

“You understand, don’t you?” Robert asks him as he gets a kiss pressed to his temple.

“It won’t be the last time, Rob.” Aaron tells him because he wants Robert to be realistic about the life they live.

Robert shakes his head, “No, it won’t, doesn’t mean I’m not gonna fight it.”

Aaron rubs his thumb on Robert’s cheek, fingers grazing his jaw and the headmistress comes out to give both Aaron and Seb a very solemn apology and that she personally will see to it that Aaron is given all the rights and privileges he should have had from the start.

“Mr Dingle, please accept my sincere apologies for upsetting you and your son.” She’s a stern sort of woman, one Aaron would think is seething under it all, over people moaning about their ‘blended’ families, but she just looks very sorry, so Aaron offers her his hand, “Thank you, Mrs Baum.”

She smiles at him and gets down to Seb’s level and apologises to him too, “I’m very sorry that we upset you today, Sebastian. We know your dads love you and want you to be safe, so we have to check. Now we won’t, your dad can come and get you whenever you both like.”

Seb nods and mimicks Aaron, sticking his hand out for her to shake. She laughs and shakes it too, “I’m very glad to see you’re so grown up about this.”

Aaron forgives her for the very fact that Seb perks up and preens at the praise.

“I really am sorry,” She tells them, “My wife and I had the same problems with our girls, I hate that it happened to you too.”

Robert stands up and Aaron with Seb still in his arms, his head lolling a bit on his shoulder were crying has tired him out.

There’s an understanding between the three of them that they’re in this together and Robert finally smiles as he waves and guides Aaron out of the office with a hand on the small of his back.

They put Seb in the back of Aaron’s car and Robert follows him home because after that, life carries on as normal, ‘cause that’s what it is for them. Normal.

 

***

 

It’s a shock when Robert finds out that his teenage son went to his other dad for advice. About girls.

“Right, not being funny, but your dad is–”

Aaron is looking at him like he’s waiting for Robert to fall into the hole he’s just dug for himself.

“Dad dated girls. Before.” Seb points out and Robert is going to have a meltdown if he finishes the next sentence with Auntie Vic.

“True, but Dad…Dad likes boys. He’s gay.” Robert is cringing inside and Aaron swipes his hand over his mouth so Robert knows he’s laughing inside. “I’m bisexual, I like both.”

Seb looks at him like, ‘yeah so?’ “But you chose Dad.”

Robert isn’t quite getting it, “Yeah, I did.”

Aaron grabs Robert’s hand and finally lets him in on the big secret, “He wanted to know how I knew.”

How Aaron knew he was gay.

“Right. Well. That’s good then.” Robert wants the ground to swallow him up, but Seb looks at him.

“It’s not the same. For me. So Dad said to come talk to you.”

Robert blinks, “You–you think you’re bi?”

Seb shrugs, “Maybe?”

“Yeah, we can talk about that. Let’s go and get something to eat.”

The three of them nod, Sebastian going to grab his shoes before they pile out into the car.

Aaron shoves Robert into the coats by the front door as they’re leaving, “God, could ya be more dense?”

“Yeah, way to help me out.” Robert lets out a breath with a laugh.

“Yeah, don’t think you’re getting away with that. I don’t care if our kid turns out to be bi, you’re gonna apologise to me. Thoroughly.”

“Gross, Dads.” Seb wrinkles his nose as he walks up behind them.

“We’re still ya dads though, whatever you feel you are,” Robert says, earnestly. He needs his son to know that he’s loved. The fact that he doesn’t bat an eyelid at Robert’s words, that he already knows how deeply he is loved is everything he’s ever wanted for him.

“I know.”

“Good. Enough of that.” Aaron pulls them both out the door and Robert locks it. Aaron has Seb in a headlock when he turns around, his pale blonde hair just peeping out and Robert is just grateful for the possibilities.

 

***

 

Seb was indeed bisexual, but he meets a lovely girl called Michaela who isn’t unlike his dad, Aaron. They date for six months before he decides to inflict his family on her.

So, in light of that, they’re driving down to the village when Mickey tries to go over her Dingle-Sugden family history.

“So you have two dads–”

“Well 3, including my stepdad.”

“But isn’t…”

“Technically, but he and my dad were together before I was born, and then after. So they’re ‘The Dads’.”

Mickey smiles and brushes back her red hair as she leans against the headrest. Seb loves it, loves her and wants them all to get along.

“Auntie Liv won’t be there as she’s got an art gallery opening, but–”

“But if it goes well, we’ll go?”

It was his aunt’s sense of humour that Mickey only come if she gets the seal of approval because Liv doesn’t want to waste time on ‘Not The One’. His dad had shoved his sister and made her apologise, but they shared a knowing smile together before he says to her, “We’ll see ya later.”

“Your family sounds so amazing. Proper close.”

They are, and he knows how lucky he is to have that. He takes Mickey’s hand and kisses the back of it, “Just watch out for my dad, he likes to ask a lot of questions to trip you up.”

“Does it ever get confusing? Dad and Dad?”

“Not really. I guess they’ve always been on the same wavelength because I call and only one of them ever comes, and it’s always the one I’m thinking of.”

“Sounds like they’re soulmates.”

“They are.”

It sounds cheesy but he’s never seen what his dads have with anyone else. They just fit the spaces in and around each other, one puts a plate down the other picks it up, one takes a bite of the toast and the other drinks the tea and vice versa.

“I hope I’ll fit in.” She says quietly and Seb squeezes her hand.

“What we have? It’s not that different, but it is, ‘cause we’re us.”

Seb parks up outside the Mill and gives Mickey a quick kiss on the mouth. He hears clapping and he can tell it’s his dad being a knob.

“Robert?” Mickey asks as if she hasn’t seen family photos of them that Seb keeps in his flat.

“Yeah. The grumpy one trying to restrain him is Aaron.”

Mickey’s laugh is clear as a bell and he feels nothing but love for her as he opens the car door, “Dad! Dad! Meet Mickey.”

 

***

 

Seb’s youngest are 5 when his dad gets sick. His father paces as doctors poke and prod Dad and everyone watches with baited breath as he gets frailer and balder and Seb thinks he is going to have to say goodbye to both of them.

“Why d’ya think that?” His dad asks him as they’re folding flannels. It’s a basic task, but Dad hates not doing anything so he stole the wash basket from Dad and they‘re folding their contraband in secret.

“He won’t make it without you.”

Seb can feel his eyes water because to say it makes it real that he might lose his dad.

“Robert…your dad has you. Mickey, the grandkids, even if I wasn’t around.” His dad’s eyes sparkle just a bit when he mentions the grandkids and Seb is so glad that he got to meet them.

“I ain’t saying it wouldn’t hurt him, but he’d find a way for you. His boy.”

He can’t hold it, he buries himself in his dad’s lap and hugs him around his decreasing waist.

“Hey, come on. It ain’t over yet.”

“Don’t go.”

“Not a chance.”

Chemo ends and his dad gets stronger again, his curls curlier, his skin less sallow.

They’re sitting have a cup of tea when his dad turns to him, “This ain’t a guarantee. Remission. Promise me you’ll help your dad if–”

It’s the only time his dad ever mentions anything other than life as normal and Seb nods, like he can’t do it fast enough. “Yeah, I will.”

“Good.”

“Dad, I love ya.”

“I love ya too.”

Dad catches them when he walks in, and he gives his husband a kiss which goes on longer than anyone needs, but Seb smiles. They have that still. They have each other.

~*~

Dad need never have worried. They go together in their sleep years later.

Chapter Text

Tick tock.

Tick tock.

Have you ever just wanted it to be quiet?

Aaron pulls his sleeves down over his hands. He knows it’s an anxious trait and Sharon always asks him about it, or rather how he feels about it when he does it.

“Aaron.”

He can hear the clock still.

“Mmm?”

“We were talking about your anger.” Her voice is soft, soothing. She’s older, in her 50s, and she comes across caring without being overbearing.

“I get angry.” He says it quietly. Shamefully.

She doesn’t seem to take it that way, “Yes, and what’s that like?”

Hot, like he feels sick and his mind goes fuzzy and blank.

“It just sort of takes over.”

She writes something down and then asks, “You feel consumed by it?”

He pulls at his sleeve.

“Aaron, every emotion has its place, what doesn’t is excess. Excess is not an emotion, it’s an overflow.”

“Sometimes I push it out…when it’s a lot.” He curls his hand up, sleeve trapped over his fingers.

“Like you did with Robert.”

And the wrench.

He nods his head in agreement. There’s a loose strand on the hem of his sleeve and he brings it to his lips to try and chew it off.

“You can see how that’s wrong, can’t you.”

It’s thin and fiddly.

“It’s the same for you. Pushing out what you can’t hold in.” His patchwork stomach that he can feel healing under his top.

He cuts the string with his teeth and ends up with it in his mouth. It’s on his tongue like a little fabric worm.

“Aaron, I want you to write down when you feel the need to hurt yourself why you think you deserve it.”

He looks up, Sharon is watching him, and she hands him a piece of paper, a drawn-up sheet with boxes for him to fill in.

“I don’t—” think that.

She smiles at him softly, “I think you do.”

He wipes the string away from his mouth and holds the sheet. It seems silly and overwhelming, but he’s going to do it. He came to try.

 ~*~

Why?

Why?

Because who would care if you told them?

“This is very good, Aaron. You’ve written a lot.”

He’s barely filled the boxes, just one-word emotions, jumbles of things he almost wants to say.

“I didn’t do it.”

“But you did. See, it’s right here.” She shows him the sheet. “This isn’t for me, Aaron, this is for you. What’s here is what you need to see.”

Anger. Pain. Sad.

How could you do this to me? I thought I was we were worth more. Where does it go?

Fuck it all.

“It tells me you’re frustrated. That you know exactly what’s hurting you and you’re trying to find a way through it.”

“And now what?” He asks.

“You tell me. Does this person; this angry, in pain, sad person need to harm themselves? Or do they want to?”

Aaron doesn’t understand what she means.

“Aaron, what we want and what we need are two different things. Want, that comes from a place of desire, something we can attain for ourselves. Need, that’s basic. That’s food, warmth, social interaction. Do you want to cut? Do you desire it? Or do you need it? Is it vital to your being?”

“Is it…both?”

He wants it, in the moment, to feel the satisfaction from it that is denied him elsewhere. Needs to feel in control of what is spinning away from him. His life, his marriage, everything fallen to pieces in 5 short months.

Sharon helps him out and tells him, “For now, I think it is for you. I want for it to one day be neither.”

 ~*~

Want?

Need?

Empty spaces and empty places shift in empty houses.

“Robert is back in your life?”

It’s not like he ever left.

“We went to the pub.” He admits as if he’s been naughty and not like he’s a grown adult.

“Did you enjoy that?”

He hums, “I missed it. Him.”

“You sound unsure.”

Aaron hasn’t cut in two months and he doesn’t want to, but he’s scared, he’s scared if he lets Robert back in that he’ll want/need it again.

“Robert makes me feel things.”

“Shall we talk about them?” She folds her notebook closed and clasps her hands like she’s waiting for him to start a big story.

What comes out is small: “I just—I want to stay better.”

Her smile comes out again and she reminds him of someone’s grandmother, “Aaron, you’re taking control of your life. You don’t want to slip into those behaviours that hurt you, the person standing between you and them is you. And you’re more than capable of stepping up.”

“I don’t want him to hurt me.”

“So, don’t let him.”

 ~*~

Spinning circles, dancing tables, clap if you know the song.

“He has a son.”

“Congratulations to him.”

“I…I started seeing someone. Alex. He’s a doctor.”

Aaron takes out his sheet, the one with his thoughts on. He hands it to Sharon.

It’s blank.

“How do you feel about this?”

“I thought I’d want to. Seeing him be a dad, but I’m happy for ‘im. I want to be happy too.”

“Is that a want or a need?”

Sharon knows him now so he pulls on his sleeve once before he looks her in the eye, “I want to be happy, but I don’t need Robert to do it. He has his life and I have mine.”

“Okay.”

 ~*~

Aaron sits in Sharon’s office in the new year and he’s smiling when she comes in to see him.

“Hiya, Aaron, how was your holiday?”

“Good.”

“Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

“No.”

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

In the end, Chas lets Aaron take Robert upstairs with him. They fit themselves as best they can on his single with Robert’s back, Aaron mostly working to be there but not on top of him or falling off the bed.

“I can sleep downstairs,” Robert tells him as they’re getting changed, but Aaron shakes his head. He unbuttons Robert’s shirt and the worst of it is revealed. His back is that faint black colour of deep bruises before they come up at the bottom, the top of his bum when Aaron pulls down his pants a bit looks purplish and Robert pulls his hand away before he can drag them down any further. The worst one is the one that caught him across his shoulders, the one that made his breath short as it was robbed from him. The one that made his dad realise he’d gone too far.

“You shouldn’t’a—”

“What? Told the truth?” Robert winces as he picks up the vest Aaron’s lending him and he takes it from Robert to put it over his head, helping ease his arms through the wide holes.

Aaron wanted the truth, he didn’t want this, he knows, but he feels that trickle of bitterness start inside him and he wants to squash it. “Sorry, I just. I did it for me as much as you.”

Robert looks at Aaron, how he’s looking down and he realises that maybe it’s not about him, “Aaron?”

“I ain’t worth that.”

His back. Not even as an aside to Robert, not at all.

“Aaron, you’re worth everything.”

Robert hisses as he gets himself up to hold Aaron’s hand, “I’m sorry I made you feel like you weren’t. I didn’t—I didn’t know what to do with this. Us. I thought if I could just let go, you’d have a better life.”

“Better life…? The only one I want is one with you in it, ya div.”

“But not closeted.” He smiles, but it’s pained.

Aaron looks down again, “That wasn’t to push ya. I wasn’t gonna lie anymore, I’m tired of it. People keep asking me about girls, I don’t fancy girls.”

“But you wanted them to know you fancy boys?” It’s an honest question, but it sounds stupid when he says it.

“I wanted to be myself.”

“You’re stronger than me. Always were.”

Aaron gets down and finishes taking off Robert’s trousers. Neither one of them is going to school tomorrow so Aaron crumples them up for the wash basket.

“S’not about strength.” Aaron helps him to lie back, his hands strong and suddenly Robert can see who he’ll be. Strong, independent, righteous. “It’s about what ya can bear.”

And Robert couldn’t bear that anymore.

“Isn’t that the same?” He asks.

Aaron shrugs, “One is about what ya can do, the other is about what breaks ya.”

“Would it?” Would have hiding being gay broken you?

“Yeah, it would have broken you too.”

He realises that Aaron isn’t wrong.

 

 

 

 

They find a park with a couple of empty swings that they nick, legs folding and unfolding them as they rock on their feet. Robert swings properly first, lets the wind blow his t-shirt as the swooping feeling expands in his stomach. He laughs because it’s so simple, to just feel air rushing past his body, but it feels so massive, like a literal balloon inside him.

He jumps at the top and ignores Aaron’s yelped, “Oi!”

He rolls in the dirt, bumped and a little dusty, but alive.

Aaron comes into his field of vision when he turns over, he’s grinning like mad, and Aaron just looks done with him.

“You’re mental.”

“Get down here.” Robert pulls on his jeans leg.

“No.”

“Aaron, come on.” He lets his hand rise under the denim, grasping Aaron’s ankle until he gets onto his knees and Robert can pull him all the way down onto himself. Aaron is warm and heavy on his chest and it’s a feeling that he can’t describe but only translate as his heart swelling against his ribs. There’s love, there’s wanting someone and then there’s this.

“Robert.” Aaron grumbles because he’s got his knees dirty.

And Robert just laughs again, “Don’t you feel it?”

“Feel what?”

Everything.

 

 

 

 

Robert wakes up to a loud banging. Aaron holds him down on the bed with a hand on his chest. At first, he’s confused. Then he moves his arm and feels pain lance down his back.

“My dad?”

Aaron nods, “Probably, Mum’s called Cain round.”

“Is that necessary?” He asks, it is his dad after all.

“Rob, he hurt you bad. It ain’t on.”

Robert feels his heart in his chest, like a little jackrabbit as he hears voices.

“He’s my son, Chas, he doesn’t belong here.” Jack is loud, and Robert pushes at Aaron’s hand so that he’s at least sitting up.

“Your son is staying here where I can keep an eye on him,” Chas flings back.

“Your son is the problem, filling him up with ideas—”

Robert mentally winces before Chas even replies, his dad throwing red at a bull, “My son is proud of who he is, he accepts Robert for who he is. Something a father should do.”

“And if you were any sort of father you wouldn’t’a done what you did to him.”

He doesn’t need to be there to know his dad is frozen, exposed.

“I don’t know what you think you’re talking about…”

Chas is at the end of her tether, “Get out, Jack. Robert stays, end of, unless you want a visit from the police.”

“This ain’t over,” Jack tells her. It isn’t angry, it isn’t a threat or even defeated. It’s an ugly sort of ownership that Robert never really noticed. He doesn’t care if Robert’s okay. Just that he’s out there doing damage to people’s idea of the family. Sugden business stays Sugden business.

Chas comes up after, knocking on Aaron’s door before opening it. Aaron gets up and Chas sits down. Robert can’t look at her.

“I know he’s your dad, love, and you’ve probably already forgiven him, but it ain’t right. I hope you know that.”

He nods, his eyes filling up with unshed tears.

“You can stay here as long as you like. We’ll sort out some space for ya, but…” You might have to go back.

“I’ll go back.”

Aaron starts, “No.”

“He’s my dad, Aaron, even if I could live here, I’m 16.” His dad could get a solicitor and drag him out and Chas through the dirt with it.

Chas wraps him up in another cuddle and whispers into his hair, “Stay till you’re healed up, okay, at least.”

He grips her shoulders as he nods.

Robert wishes he could stay, more than anything, but even when he does go back he’s going back as his own man and not even his dad can take that from him.

He also knows that he’s going to have to get through Aaron first, or worse, stop him from doing something entirely stupid before he can realise what it is.

Chapter Text

Robert had thought Aaron was simple. Easy. He finds instead that Aaron holds multitudes beneath his skin that breakout in the wounds that he inflicts on his body. He doesn’t know it more keenly or more deeply than when he holds Aaron’s limp body against a car. There is no familiar blue to alight Aaron’s anger, his hate, his righteous fury, or the quiet love that he held and Robert tried to ignore. There’s just blood and heat in his veins as Robert tries to stem the parts of Aaron that even he can’t control.

Robert doesn’t contain multitudes. He is one heartbeat over and over. Aaron. No more. No less.

Letting Aaron go with his whispered secrets that make no sense just ties Robert up in knots. Aaron doesn’t give out lies like scraps of paper like Robert does. He doesn’t give anything unless it’s prised from him with a crowbar or teasing word that sneaks under his armour like a kiss. Maybe that’s why he does it. He thinks Robert has come to take from him again and he rather not have the hassle. Here: take it all. S’what you do.

They fight and Robert realises he hadn’t intended it at all. This is a part of Aaron that is bleeding; heavy streams down both arms, his chest cut open and he’s only got so much time left before he dies. That’s what he’s afraid of. Aaron has multitudes, and he’s capable of anything.

He tries to tease, soften the bar, but Aaron is so closely folded that even Robert’s words don’t reach him, his pages stained with thick black ink that blots out anything that isn’t this.

What’s true might be the thing that breaks him, shattering him along with Aaron as the words fall from his lips. Still. His heart beats that one word. Aaron.

He puts a blanket over him to keep him warm and tries to cope once again with all that Aaron is. He is not simple. He is not easy. He is everything. Robert realises that he doesn’t carry multitudes inside him because they’re contained in the one thing that does: Aaron. Knowing him is to know Robert himself. He is who he loves; a beautiful, broken man who is so many things and none at all. He lets that fade him into the background, quiet and steadfast, till all that’s left is a heartbeat. That’s all that matters now. Aaron.

That’s where it comes from. You know.

You know that all of me is you.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Chapter Text

Aaron feels wanted, and that’s how Robert gets him.

It starts with a kiss, unyielding hands that trap him, a hot mouth that won’t be denied. Robert had come looking for him.

More than that, when Robert faltered, scared of his own desires, he still came back. He still wanted Aaron; more than anything he could conjure against it. There isn’t a lie in how he touches Aaron’s body. How his anger turns to passion, and how he doesn’t even bother to hide it now. How he just demands it of Aaron. Give me you, like he’s entitled.

Aaron lies in his bed thinking about weakness. Was it weakness that let him be bowled over by a businessman in a fancy car? Is he that vain? No, what’s worse is that wasn’t weakness. He didn’t fall into this, Robert didn’t take something from Aaron that he didn’t want to give. He handed it over with two hands and ignored the consequences. He felt wanted, but he could have taken that and run. Had Robert once and thrown him out like he planned, but he chose the truth in the lies, the parts of Robert that Robert doesn’t even realise are there. The boy he was, the man he could be.

He wants to say that’s strength instead, but he knows it’s stupidity. Robert is a beautiful liar, and that’s the only true thing he can trust. He takes Aaron to a hotel room and doesn’t even bother with slick promises, just offers what they both know: they want and they’ll have. Aaron tries to offer more, but Robert bypasses it like rubbish on the side of the road. He should run then. Forget about strong, weak, and remember survive. But he doesn’t. ‘cause he’s not any of those things. He’s human, and like an affectation of madness, he keeps expecting different results.

Robert grabs him on their way back into the pub and pulls on him like lovers, real lovers do, and Aaron wishes, wishes, that he was anything other than what he is. He felt wanted, yeah, that’s how Robert got him, but Aaron is the reason he gets to keep him. He is the author of his own pain and less than a person, less than an animal’s instincts, he keeps accepting the hurt. He’s not strong, or weak, he’s stupid and the worst of it all: he doesn’t care.

Chapter Text

He supposes everyone thinks he keeps them pride of place on his bedside table, or on a chain that he can rest against his skin, or maybe even in his wallet so that he can take a piece of Aaron wherever he goes, but the truth is that it’s none of them.

Aaron asks him about it when they get back together.

“Hey, where’d our rings go?”

He hesitates.

Underneath his jumpers in his cupboard is the ring box he bought them in. Aaron frowns at it.

Robert shrugs.

“I bought them for us.” Our love. Without it, they don’t mean anything. They’re just two rings from a poncy jeweller’s, so that’s where they stayed. Robert tells him as much.

“Give us mine back,” Aaron asks.

“What?”

Aaron digs his own ring out and slips it into his pocket, “You said they don’t mean anything. Now they do.”

Even if they don’t wear them, even if they aren’t there yet, pleasegodletthemoneday, they’ll have love imbued in them again. Robert takes his own ring and slips it into his pocket.

A ring is a promise, a circle of an eternity, and now they’re a totem, something to give them both strength. Exactly what Robert had bought them for.

“I love you.” He tells Aaron as he thumbs his ring, the metal cold to the touch after being neglected for so long.

Aaron nods, ‘cause he gets it. One day. One day he’ll give that ring back to Robert and he’ll put it on Aaron’s finger with his promise, his vow: I accept you. I love you. I’m yours. They just need warming up first.

Chapter Text

Aaron’s passing out cold drinks as his mum attempts to cook and he eyes up the ingredients for the lasagne he had intended to make. He’s getting good at it, got a special cooking dish for it and everything, but his mum had barged in with good intentions and is now destroying his kitchen. Liv is on the settee with Gerry trying to pretend she doesn’t have her feet nestled under his thigh while Alex sits on the armchair, Aaron perched precariously on the arm once he puts the last glass down.

“Just let your mum do her thing,” Alex encourages.

He’s about to retort when his phone goes.

“Hello?” It’s a private number so he’s got no idea.

“Is that Mr Aaron Dingle?” A woman’s soft voice asks him.

“Speaking.” He turns the telly on mute even though it wasn’t high to start with. He’s got a feeling in his gut and he can’t shake it.

“My name is Coleen, I’m a nurse at Hotten hospital, I’m calling on behalf of your husband, Robert Sugden.”

“What?”

“Did–did I get that wrong?” She sounds apologetic, but Aaron shushes her with a ‘no no’.

“What’s this about Robert?”

All eyes swivel on him and he turns his back and wanders over to the stairs.

Coleen sighs and takes in a breath, “Yes, well, we’d need you to come in.”

Aaron shakes his head, “Why? Just tell me on the phone. Can’t be that bad, I saw him this morning.”

“Mr Dingle, I really think you should come in.” She’s still soft, but firmer.

“No,” His voice shakes, “Tell me now.”

“Can I call you Aaron?”

He mutters yes.

“Aaron, I’m very sorry to inform you…”

It’s nothing. It’s just words. His world just breaks into pieces, a globe fracturing from inside out and the fragments splayed out.

“That your husband, Robert, was fatally injured in a car crash this afternoon.”

“No.”

“We tried to resuscitate him but his airway was too tightly closed, which led to a loss of oxygen–”

Aaron closes his eyes. He doesn’t see Robert how he saw him this morning, new haircut and a determined look in his eye. He sees Robert as he had been with him. Gentle, warm, loving, the time they held hands at the cinema just for Robert to prove a point.

“I said I’d take you on a date, didn’t I?” Robert turning to him with that self-satisfied grin of his because he knew Aaron was loving it. The sole attention from him, the soft romance of it all. Aaron loves that he is the centre of Robert’s universe. He doesn’t tell him that. Just lets him carry on paying Aaron compliments as Aaron squeezes his fingers because he’s happy.

“We, his medical team, did everything we could to save Robert’s life, but his injuries were too extensive.” She finishes and Aaron just lets his phone drop out of his hand after his whispered thank you.

Alex tries to catch his hand, Liv almost falling over herself to stand up and he just doesn’t care about any of it.

Robert…

His mum is calling him, but he’s walking up the stairs, closing his bedroom door and locking it. He rests his back against it as he slides down, head in hands and balanced on his knees. There are no tears, just a deep ache and the knowledge that something inside him has torn and will never heal.

He doesn’t know how long he sits there but Liv comes tapping at his door.

“Aaron.”

He wants to get up and tell her, but he can’t make himself move. He hears shuffling and he realises she’s sitting with her back against the door on the other side.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?” There’s steeled acceptance in her voice but he hears her tentativeness.

His voice croaks, “Yeah.”

I’m sorry.” Her voice is barely a whisper, pained and grief-stricken. That makes him get up and open his door. Liv stands up and wraps her arms around Aaron’s waist and he takes her over to his bed and they lie down, cuddled up, and Aaron strokes Liv’s hair as the tears finally start to fall.

~*~

Aaron feels tired, but it’s bone-deep as he drags himself out of bed. He slept in his clothes and Liv stayed with him, curled up as she finally let go of her anger. She doesn’t make him talk but she does talk about Robert.

“Remember that one time where he got coke all down his front because we shook the bottle and forgot to tell him?”

It makes him smile because he does.

Robert is faffing about making dinner in the pub, it’s his turn, and he asks what everyone wants to drink and Aaron shouts him a coke. He had a beer at lunch and he’s got to drive later.

Liv frowns and Aaron looks at her, “What?”

“Didn’t we…?” They were trying to balance on 2-litre bottles of coke like they were auditioning to join the circus right before they put them on the side.

Robert lets out a series of expletives before he comes out of the kitchen, drenched in fizzy bubbles.

“Which one a’ya?” He looks to be fuming but he’s got a coke drip on his chin and Aaron can’t help but roll his lips into his mouth to hold his laugh.

“This ain’t funny, Aaron.”

“It’s a little bit funny.” He smiles wide and Robert can’t help but join him.

He shakes his head after,“No, you’re both knobs.”

Aaron gets up and gives him a consolatory kiss and gets his own shirt wet and it finally mollifies Robert.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers low.

Robert looks up and sighs, “Okay, fine.”

“I thought he was gonna lose his–” Liv pauses, and Aaron can see her mentally change her wording, “mind.”

“He didn’t though, did he? He weren’t all bad.”

Liv looks scandalised, “I didn’t–he hurt us really bad.”

“And you didn’t forgive him.”

And now you wish you had.

“Liv.” He hugs her to him again and she accepts it. “Robert didn’t care what you said to ‘im. He just wanted you to be okay.”

Her hands curl up in his shirt and he knows that this won’t be okay for her for a long time.

~*~

Aaron finally has to venture out for milk, eyes down not wanting to chat when he bumps into someone as he gets out the door. He drops his milk, but it doesn’t burst.

“Sorry.” Hands hold him to make sure that he doesn’t tip, but when he looks up, it’s Robert.

“Robert?”

“Yeah?” He looks tired like all the energy has been drained out of him and left him with purplish bruises under his eyes and a sallowness to his skin.

“You’re alright?”

“You heard then?” Robert sighs. “I don’t–”

Aaron doesn’t think, doesn’t consider, he just grabs Robert’s face in his hands and pulls him down for a kiss. He responds, his hands grabbing Aaron’s arms before he pulls them down and away, stepping back.

“Aaron, what are you doing?”

Aaron shakes his head and grins, “Nothing. Just. I’m really glad to see ya.”

His whole body shakes like the tension inside him has snapped and left him like a cut piece of ribbon blowing in the wind.

Robert frowns and starts rubbing at his arms, “Are you cold?”

“No, no. I have to go.” Aaron squeezes Robert’s hip with his hand. “See ya later.”

Robert stares after him and Aaron barely remembers to pick up his milk as he makes a beeline for the Mill.

“Liv!”

She comes down, she’s had a shower, her eyes red.

“He’s okay.” He tells her excitedly, she looks sceptical.

“The hospital–”

“Got it wrong, I just ran into him literally.”

“What?”

“He’s okay. He’s in the village.” He picks her up with arms around her waist. The relief he feels is unreal. The tear he felt is a distant memory, stitched up with unprecedented joy at the fact Robert is alive. His tired acceptance is refreshed with happiness.

“So what happened to ‘im?” Liv asks him when he puts her down.

“Dunno, didn’t ask. He’s alive, Liv, that’s all that matters.”

Aaron also feels the cracks inside him begin to heal, the ones done to him in the year past. They aren’t all the way gone, but in light of what’s happened, they don’t feel so deep.

Robert texts him: y’alright?

He texts back: I jst got a bit of gd nws

Okay.

Mayb ill tell u over a drnk.

Sure.

Chapter Text

Alex tells Aaron about the crash. It takes everything inside Aaron to sit on his hands and not go to the hospital. He texts Vic to keep him updated and she gets back to him an hour later with: going home to change.

He leaves his abruptly, grabbing his jacket and holding it in his hand.

Aaron drives up to Robert’s which is stupid because it’s less than 5 minutes away but he doesn’t think of that.

Robert looks exhausted when he opens the door, “Aaron?”

“I heard what happened, I’m sorry.” He stands sort of awkwardly before Robert gestures him in. “I know it’s proper mad for you right now, but I just–”

“S’alright, Aaron, I’m glad ya here.” Robert manages a small smile for him as they make their way into the living room.

Robert offers him a cup of tea but Aaron shakes his head, “I just wanted to see if you were okay.”

“I’m fine, Seb’s fine, it’s–” them. Robert sits down next to Aaron on the sofa and laces his hands together, elbows resting on his knees as he looks down. “He can’t lose his mum. He just can’t.”

“Rebecca’ll be alright. She’s a fighter.” It’s not an empty gesture, she really won’t go down without a fight and she’s proven that.

“And how do I explain it to her when she wakes up? If she wakes up.” Robert’s voice gets higher and louder at the end.

“You tell her the truth, Robert, you owe her that.” Aaron shuffles over a bit and wraps his arm around Robert’s shoulders and starts rubbing his other arm.

Robert tucks his head into the juncture of Aaron’s shoulder and neck and Aaron can feel him breathing slow and deep as he tries to come to terms with what’s going on.

“Hey, come on,” Aaron jostles him back up, “nothin’s said and done yet.”

There’s a moment before a kiss when you know it’s gonna happen and everything slows right down so that you can savour every second or you can run and hide from it. Aaron should do the latter, but he does the former. He doesn’t even know why. He just accepts Robert attacking his lips, hands coming up to cup, and maybe even to trap, Aaron’s face, as if by controlling this he can control whatever else is going on.

Aaron slows him by opening his mouth and letting his tongue swipe Robert’s lips, gentling the kiss, until Robert kisses him like he used to, with complete focus as he curls his tongue against Aaron’s softly and they part as if it had been any other kiss they had shared.

“I’m sorry, my head’s all over the place,” Robert looks at him with a wince and Aaron squeezes his knee.

“It’s fine, Robert, I don’t mind,” And he means it. There was something comforting in the familiarity of Robert’s mouth. Lips he’s kissed a hundred times: soft and warm, cold and chapped, in the heat of the moment and in the quiet stillness of indescribable pain. It just reminds him of all they’ve been through.

“Yeah, but…” Robert gestures with his hand, rolling it. Alex.

“It’s just a kiss, Robert.”

He knows as soon as he’s said it, he’s wrong. It’s never just a kiss with Robert. It’s just now that it doesn’t come with strings attached. He doesn’t know if it’s to prove it to himself or to Robert, but he strokes his hand over his cheek, feeling the stubble just starting to grow. He leans forward and kisses Robert this time. It’s less raw, less about taking and Aaron feels it in the bottom of his heart. They aren’t pressed together now, Aaron feels the air in the space between them as Robert catches his top lip only to let it go a second later, a hand tangles in his hair at the back and he lets his head be tilted as Robert takes over their kiss. Aaron just lets himself be swayed, his hand drops to Robert’s shoulder and grips his shirt, a sigh falling from his lips as Robert slides his mouth against his. It would be so easy to fall into him, ease them both down on the settee and end this partition between them. But he can’t.

Aaron shoves gently at Robert’s shoulder and he lets Aaron go immediately, mouth glistening from their shared want.

“I should let ya get on,” Aaron tells him with a smile. Robert smiles back and nods.

“Thanks. For coming round, it means a lot.”

“Anytime.” He presses one last kiss to Robert’s forehead and leaves him there as he gets up to go home.

A kiss is never a kiss with someone you love. Sometimes it’s I want you, I need you, I can’t live without you, and sometimes, it’s I’m here for you. And he is here for Robert. Always.

Chapter Text

Aaron’s rolling his lips between his teeth and Robert is looking at him like, ‘well?’

Seb had gotten some sort of sticky food related substance stuck in Robert’s hair when he grabbed his dad for an after dinner cuddle. Aaron always takes the time to wipe Seb’s hands first before he hands him over to Robert, but Robert can’t wait sometimes, he just needs to smell that baby smell his son has and he ends up in situations like this.

And this being his fetching number 2 buzzcut.

“It’s, uh, a look.”

Robert deflates almost immediately and Aaron laughs, stepping up to his husband and rubbing his soft, but now bristly, head.

“I look bald.” It’s true that the blonde of his hair does him no favours in differentiating his hair from his head, but he doesn’t look bald.

“Oh, don’t be a git, hair grows.” Aaron leans up and give Robert a kiss and goes back to what he was actually doing and that was feeding said child who created this nonsense.

Robert picks up Seb out of his high chair, clearly having learned nothing, “Hair grows, huh, son?”

Seb touches the sides of Robert’s face, then his hair and he wriggles at the rough texture, trying to squirm away.

“Oh god, even my kid hates it.”

“I like it.” Aaron tells him, honestly, “Reminds me of me.”

Robert’s eye twitches, “Is that so?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell ya about it later.”

It’s a soft promise and Robert finally smiles and bounces Seb on his hip. Hair does grow, but family is precious, so he doesn’t even complain the second time it happens.

Chapter Text

1. “I’m in love with you.”

People seem to think Robert was stupid, or obtuse about what was going on between him and Aaron during the affair. That he was consistently getting his end away and having fun doing it.

They don’t know.

They weren’t in the quiet hotel rooms when it’s dark and silent, the time of arched backs, passionate cries and drawn out sighs a thing of the past. When all Robert could do was think about Aaron, his nose filled up with the smell of him, cheap body wash and sweat from his pleasure. The first time Aaron takes of his top during sex, Robert looks into his eyes, soft and blue, so he knows that nothing has changed for him. What he takes from Aaron’s body isn’t skin, not anymore.

“Aaron?” He whispers. Aaron snuffles in his sleep, his dressing gown a thing of the past as his shoulder curves down, his arm tucked under himself.

Robert pulls the duvet off, both of them still naked and tangled up, Aaron’s leg between his two, the rest of him vulnerable. He strokes his fingertips down. Aaron’s cooler now, nothing to heat his blood, stoke his fire. He shifts a bit and Robert lets his finger run the line of his uppermost scar.

No. Aaron isn’t simply skin, warm, heat, fire, pleasure. He’s soft, strong, passionate, righteous, pained. And he gives it all to Robert. No matter what he does with it, how he twists it and bends it and moulds it, it’s never less than his entirety.

How brilliant is he? Robert wonders, To be so at ease with himself.

In a moment, he’ll roll Aaron onto his back, wake him up with a hot mouth and careless promises, but right now, he recognises what he never will when the day comes.

I’m in love with you. All of you.

And I’ll never get to keep you. Not because he’s married, or because he’s denying himself, but because he doesn’t know how to be. He doesn’t know how to do what Aaron does, so let him think that Robert doesn’t love him. That he doesn’t think about him when it’s dark. He won’t look at Robert and finally realise how lacking he actually is and leave.

Robert knows exactly what he was doing during the affair, holding onto stardust and hoping it won’t leave him when the day comes.

Chapter Text

16. “Why haven’t you kissed me yet?” 

As far as ‘second’ first dates go, it’s a disaster, and that was before the napkin got set on fire.

Robert winces as he and Aaron go for a wander outside to try and clear the air, and hopefully the smell of smoke off them.

“I’m sorry,” He tells him as he stops in the middle of the park.

Aaron laughs, “It ain’t the worse go we’ve had.”

“Yeah, but–”

“Rob, it’s funny, so laugh.” Aaron carries on walking a bit and Robert has to run a bit to catch up with him.

“When did you get so mellow?” He teases and Aaron smiles in response to it.

“About the same time you got your knickers so far up your arse.”

“Excuse me if I wanted it to be…” Perfect.

Aaron stops him with a hand pressed on his stomach.

“I don’t want that.” I want you.

And as if the date couldn’t get any worse, the sky opens up and gushes.

They manage to get to a gazebo, but Robert wrinkles his nose at how his shirt sticks to him and feels squelchy.

“Ya think it’s a sign?” Aaron pokes him and Robert rolls his eyes. “What? No rain of frogs to put you off?”

“I’m glad you think this is so–”

“Robert, shut up.” Aaron steps into his personal space and Robert stops breathing entirely, “All I wanna know is why you haven’t kissed me yet?”

He feels his brows draw in, Aaron’s hand cupping his cheek, “Yeah?”

Aaron shrugs, “I fancy ya, I want ya to kiss me.”

Robert notices that Aaron has still got raindrops caught in his eyelashes and they make his eyes really blue when he looks up expectantly at him. He doesn’t start with the kiss, he wraps one arm around Aaron’s waist, his other hand holds his jaw as he pauses the second before the kiss. The rain is still going, a soft ‘chrrrssshh’ sound against the roof. He may not get a perfect second first date, but he’s going to do this right if it kills him. And he does. Their lips touch and everything comes flooding back; how Aaron always grips his arms to pull him in tighter, how he tips Aaron’s head back because he’s that little bit taller than he is, how he can never quite stop his own little groan when Aaron forces him to open up for him and accept what he wants to give. Eventually, they both ease off together, trading soft kisses before they stop entirely.

“See, it’s alright this,” Aaron tells him quietly, and he nods. “Just buy me a beer next time and call it even, yeah?”

Chapter Text

19. I can't stay away from you.

 

They’re friends. Best friends.

It’s the daily ritual Robert tells himself before he goes and picks Aaron up for coffee. They’re trying this new thing where they meet on neutral territory (as in Chas won’t see and collar Robert) and do the friends ‘thing’.

They make small talk as they walk and Aaron tells him about a big contract coming up and how he’s had to scrape to salvage it in the wake of Adam’s arrest.

“You don’t think he did it, do you?” Robert asks him, out of the blue.

Aaron looks at him for a second and shakes his head, “No, but I can’t stop ‘im, can I? Not when he’s protecting–”

And Robert gets it. Aaron knows the truth because he knows Adam. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for family because Aaron is the same.

“She’s his mum.” Robert can understand that in the vaguest terms, and Aaron stops for a second and looks at him. They share a moment, a thought for Sarah and they move on. Aaron is the only one who even remembers that he thinks about her.

“Don’t tell anyone, yeah?” Aaron says it more as an afterthought as he opens the café door for Robert.

“What are you gonna do?”

He shrugs, “Dunno yet, but I’ll think of something.”

~*~

On their 5th coffee date in as many days, Robert feels the strain. Not spending time with Aaron, but keeping the divide of what they were from what they are.

They’re walking with their coffees, Aaron has an obnoxiously sweet thing he wants Robert to try and when he shakes his head, Aaron stuffs it into his mouth.

He mumbles an ‘oi’ around the mouthful he’s got and Aaron looks at him with the sort of quiet joy he did when they were married.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have coffee tomorrow,” Robert tells him after he swallows.

Aaron looks at him sadly and nods, “Yeah, you’re right.”

It’s a comfort to him to know that he isn’t the only one who feels the lines blurring.

They sit in comfortable silence after that, the cooler January air trying to chill what is still a fire between them.

~*~

It’s the 6th day and Robert stands in their spot as Aaron walks towards him.

“Hiya.” Aaron’s smile is small and his voice soft.

“I’m thinking of getting a Belgian bun, you want?” Robert offers because he knows Aaron loves the cherry on top.

“Sounds good.”

Robert stops them both, “We can’t keep–”

Aaron agrees with the same sort of quietness in Robert, “I know.”

The ‘I can’t keep away from you’ is glaring and neon in the liminal space of things they should deal with and don’t.

“How’s Alex?” Robert tries. If Aaron won’t force the distance then he will.

“He’s alright, thanks.”

Robert opens the door for him this time and Aaron’s hand touches his as he pushes to hold the door for Robert.

They both stare at where their hands have been and then at each other. Robert orders his coffee and he thinks about what it really means to be Aaron’s friend.

~*~

On the 7th day, he stays in bed.

Chapter Text

2. 'Please don't leave me'

Robert frowns at his phone when he picks it up and gets a garbled greeting from Aaron.

“Aaron, you alright?”

“I neeeeeeed to gooo.”

“You’re drunk?” It’s a rare occurrence as Dingles are made from 90% proof alcohol by nature, but it does happen occasionally.  “Where are you? Just go to bed upstairs if–”

“Nooo. I’m out. Outside?”

Outside?

Robert looks out his window and Aaron is sitting on the path. He puts the phone down and walks to his front door.

“Aaron.” He says firmly and he turns around and wobbles himself to his feet.

“Robert, hi.” He looks shocked to see him as if he didn’t come stumbling outside Robert’s.

“Right, I’m calling you a cab.” Robert says as Aaron hugs himself around Robert like a big octopus.

Aaron sniffs, “I thought we were friends.”

“We are, which is why I’m gonna get you home.” Robert hugs an arm around Aaron’s waist to guide him inside. He clings to Robert happily and lets himself be plonked on the settee.

“Hey, Rob, polar bears are right-handed.” Both Aaron’s eyebrows go up and his face is a picture of pride.

Robert laughs, “Are they now?”

He calls and he gets told no more than 20 minutes, so he goes to the kitchen to pour Aaron a glass of water.

“Robert!” Aaron shouts and he almost jumps out of his skin.

“First off, sssh!” He says as he comes back, kneeling down in front of Aaron to put the glass in his hand as well as trying to guide him to drink it, “Secondly, what?”

Aaron drinks some of the water before pushing it away, “Please don’t leave me.”

Robert frowns, “I’m right here, Aaron.”

He shakes his head, “No.”

He touches his heart, “Here. You’re leaving me.”

Oh.

“No, Aaron, you’re just getting over me.” It kills him to even say it, to encourage the man he loves to move on, but it’s the life he’s made for himself.

“I don’t want to!”

“I know, but you have to.” Robert puts the glass down and Aaron grabs his t-shirt and pulls him back. Their faces end up inches apart and Robert can almost taste the kiss before it happens. It’s gentle, Aaron feeling him out to see if he’ll respond, and he does, he doesn’t know how not to. He does pull away after that though.

“You can’t, Aaron.”

“I can. See.” He kisses Robert on his neck, up under his jaw.

Robert sighs, the rough texture of Aaron’s beard dragging perfectly against his skin, “Well then, I’m telling you, you can’t.”

Aaron leans back from him, his face soft and vulnerable. Robert kisses his forehead and stands up, “You’re done with this now, Aaron.”

His heart breaks twice over, once for himself, and once for seeing it happen on Aaron’s face.

“You’ll be alright, you are alright. You’re just drunk and a bit sad is all.” He tells him, gently, hopeful that he’ll understand.

“And when I’m not?”

“Not drunk and sad?”

Aaron looks up at him with wet eyes, “Not drunk, but still sad?”

“You remember that it’s a choice you made.” A car honks and Robert offers Aaron his hand to help him up.

“I love you.” Aaron tells him and he almost looks sober when he does it.

“I love you too, now go to bed and sleep it off,” Robert tells him with a false happiness he doesn’t feel.

They get to the front door and Aaron hugs him again, “Don’t leave, Robert.”

“That isn’t a choice you get to make.” Robert unattaches himself from Aaron and gets him into the car before he pays the fare, with tip, and goes back inside. He goes back into the kitchen, puts the glass in the sink and lets himself cry for a minute or so before he shakes himself and goes back upstairs.

‘cause in the end, the only person who is left, is Robert.

Chapter Text

3. “It’s always been you.” 

Aaron drags the duvet off the bed to cover him and Robert as they both try to recover their strength, Robert laughing as he rubs his stomach.

“That was–” he turns to look at Aaron, “Enthusiastic.”

Aaron shoves him to lie back on the floor and uses his shoulder for a pillow, “Not my fault you lack excitement in your old age.”

Robert flicks his ear as he puts his arm around him, “I think you’ll find it was you with your feet over–”

Another shove, “What do ya want, a medal?”

“A bit of personal recognition for my services wouldn’t go amiss,” Robert’s stomach shakes when he laughs and Aaron tucks the duvet up further to stop it from getting cold.

“If you wanna start charging you’ll have to find a better corner, mate.”

Robert takes mock offence to that one and rolls himself on top of Aaron, “Say that again.”

Aaron widens his legs so that Robert can lie properly between them and he holds his waist as he rolls his eyes, “You’re the one planning a new career as a ‘Lady of the Night’.”

They both snort and Robert brushes back Aaron’s hair. He’s growing it again so it curls up worse after sex, the salt of his own sweat making it a tangled bird’s nest.

“Would you still want me if I was a proper slapper then?” Robert jokes as he bites Aaron’s collarbone.

He scratches his fingers down Robert’s back, “Yeah.”

“Liar.”

“I would.” He leans up and gives Robert a kiss, “‘cause I know I’d be the last.”

Robert looks at him and his face comes over all soft, “Yeah.”

“Would I be your last, Aaron Dingle? Of all the men you’ve hypothetically shagged for money?”

Aaron drags Robert down so they’re pressed from shoulder to groin, “You’d be the only one, coz it’s only ever been you.”

Robert looks at him, bypasses the joke entirely, and kisses him so softly and so gently, he barely feels it. “It’s always been you for me too.”

Chapter Text

9. “I missed you so much.” 

It’s their first fight since they got back together and it’s been brewing awhile. The stress of taking it slow, but never really having the time to spend together (the pressures of running a business alone and a newborn son) mean that they are at breaking point pretty soon into it.

Robert’s got his arms folded as Aaron is picking up contract files, “I’m sorry, Rob, I ain’t got time.”

“You know I don’t have time tomorrow because it’s my two days with Seb.”

“Well, I can’t magic work into thin air, not if I want it to stay up while Adam’s gone.”

The reality of Adam being gone is years, decades maybe if sentencing doesn’t go his way. It’s something Aaron doesn’t like to think about, but Robert wants him to be realistic about.

“Aaron–”

“What, Robert? Shall I just drop my business for you? The one you helped pay for, am I right?”

It’s shots fired after that.

“Oh, here we go.” Robert starts and Aaron lets it get his back up. “’Here we go’?”

They mostly squabble about nothing until Robert sighs, “I should have known this wouldn’t work.”

“What?” Aaron feels blindsided.

“Us, doing this again. We–” He looks down and then back up at Aaron, “we don’t fit.”

“What do ya mean we don’t fit?”

Robert sits down at the kitchen table and picks at his fingernails, “I–I want it more than you.”

It’s like something inside Aaron shatters.

“How can you…?” His voice cracks, he takes in a breath and it’s like he’s being pulled underwater. Robert gets up quickly with concern and Aaron pushes him away when he tries to hug him.

“You don’t–you broke my heart, Robert. Smashed it, crushed it, left it the dirt.”

“Aaron.”

“And y’know what I remember of it? How I missed you so much. It was like a hole in me I couldn’t fill.”

Robert tries again and Aaron lets him pull him into his arms, a hand on the back of his neck. Aaron rubs his face against Robert’s shoulder and Robert shushes him, the tears take a second but they come hot.

“I’m sorry, Aaron, I’m so sorry,” Robert whispers into his hair as he rubs a thumb against the bottom of Aaron’s hairline.

“We fit, Robert,” because I know the exact shape your absence is, “We just need to figure this out, alright.”

“I’ll talk to Rebecca and ask for Sunday instead, how’s that?” Robert kisses his forehead and he nods.

“We should talk then, tomorrow.”

That part is new for them, the making time to deal with things as they come up, but Aaron can’t, won’t, go through losing him again, so if he has to force it, he will.

“We should, then I want to take ya for a drink.” They share a quick kiss as Aaron goes to pick up his papers again.

“Okay.” They both smile because even though they had a fight, it isn’t the end. They’ll still go for a drink and get to be together. They just have to make sure they’re on the same page first.

“Stay here tonight,” Aaron says as he’s leaving, “I can see ya when I get in, can’t I?”

That’s another promise that makes them both smile. Aaron is almost out the door when Robert calls him, “I missed you so much it hurt too, like shards of glass constantly cutting me.”

Yeah. They fit, they just need to make sure that the pieces lock and won’t be broken. Not again.

Chapter Text

20. “I’ve been waiting all my life for you.” 

After Aaron’s proposal the day before his birthday, there has been an expectation he will just produce Aaron’s ring, he’ll put it on and it’s all hunky dory.

Well, no.

He can see Aaron get antsy each morning that Robert doesn’t give him the ring.

Robert isn’t being difficult, or cruel, he just wants to show Aaron the same love and attention he gave him. ‘I don’t dance’ Aaron Dingle creating forward and backward motion to a cover of ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ is not something you just bypass.

He thinks about all the things he could do and crosses most of them off at the start. Aaron doesn’t like big deals even though he’s a massive deal.

Then he remembers it’s the last Thursday of the month. The best/worst secret wherein Aaron locks himself inside the bathroom; runs a bath, soaks until he’s horribly pruney and drinks bubbly wine. It only happens on this day and no one is allowed to bother, tease or joke about it. Aaron explained it to him in bed once, it’s self-care, taking that time to check in with yourself and get right with yourself. He does it sometimes in the morning, he’ll just sit in bed in the quiet, Aaron with him just drawing doodles with his fingers on Robert’s skin.

Robert does also realise, in hindsight, scaring the crap out of him when he comes into their room in a towel probably wasn’t the best idea.

“Jesus, Robert! What are you doing?!”

He’s just been sitting on the bed, lost in thought, but without indicating he was here at all to Aaron.

“Sorry, I was waiting for you to get out of the bath.”

“Well, the bathroom’s yours.” Aaron frowns at him as he goes to grab a pair of pants from the drawer.

“No, I don’t want the bathroom, I want you.”

Aaron raises an eyebrow at him, “Coulda said that before I got clean.”

“Har har, no, I just–” He hasn’t thought this through at all.

“What?” Aaron comes and sits next to him, pants in his hand, towel folded around his waist.

“Today is when you take care of yourself, do all the stuff you need to feel better.”

He nods, “Yeah?”

“I ain’t ever met anyone like you, Aaron.” Aaron looks uncomfortable for a second, but Robert smiles, “I just mean, people hurt, I hurt, and we all complain and moan like that’s how it’s always gonna be, but you. You make it better for yourself.”

“I think back to what my life was like before I met you and I just think, wow. How alone was I? And then I realise that, actually, I’ve been waiting my whole life for you.”

He pulls off the necklace that he keeps Aaron’s ring on, he only stopped wearing it after Christmas, and frees his ring from it.

“I wasn’t me until I met you. I got lost somewhere along the way and you showed me the path. The way home.”

He offers Aaron his ring, “You promised me love so we’ll have love, I’ll promise you a home because I want to be that for you. If you’ll have me.”

“Gimme that. Finally.” Aaron smiles as he takes his ring and grabs Robert by the back of his neck to pull him down for a kiss.

Robert manages to wrest it back from him so that he can put it back on Aaron’s finger.

“I love you.” He tells Aaron as he kisses his damp collarbone. “And we’re gonna get married for real this time.”

Aaron nods, his smile just as wide as when he proposed, “Yeah, we will.”

Chapter Text

“The way I feel when I’m with you…” + “Please marry me.”

It is a lie to say Aaron Dingle is not romantic. He’s just not traditional in his sense of romance. A bunch of flowers is nice, but they could be for anyone, they could wither and die and never have meant anything. He wants this to mean something for Robert, and for him.

So, he’s been preparing his ‘romantic’ evening for awhile, but nothing ever really lines up the way he wants it to. Not until everything just falls into place in time for Robert’s birthday. Well, the day before his birthday. Part of him does think it’s cheesy, too cheesy, but he’s committed and he wants to make this happen.

“Ah! A not tired weekend, brilliant.” Robert sits on the sofa and grins with a bottle of beer in his hand. “Are you gonna sit down or just plant roots?”

Aaron is standing by the stairs having a think when Robert digs into him and he snaps himself out of his stupor to nick his beer as he sits down. Robert cuddles up to him as he flicks on the telly and lets Aaron have a swig before he takes it back again.

“You’re tense, why?” Robert noses the dip of where his neck meets his shoulder and Aaron shakes him off because it tickles, he’s got a bit of end of the day bum fluff on his chin and that’s what’s scratching him.

“Got a lot on.” He mumbles. Just suck it up and do it, Dingle.

“Think I can help with that.” He slips back down and Aaron has to get off the settee, “Nooooo.”

Robert looks at him with a slight bewilderment, “Alright. I’ll play, what’s going on?”

He has to do it now.

Pulling out his phone, he scrolls down to the song he found, it’s a Maroon 5 cover. He puts it on repeat, just in case.

Someday, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you…

Robert tilts his head further in his confusion and Aaron offers him his hand with a waggle of his fingers.

“Come on.”

Whether it’s shock or curiousity, Aaron doesn’t know, but Robert gets up with a suspcious look on his face and lets Aaron pull him to his body. He lets go of Robert’s hand and grabs his waist, his other hand taking his.

“Aaron…”

And then he steps forward. Robert looks down at their feet as he then steps to the side.

“You’re–?”

He steps back and Robert comes forward, “You learned to dance?”

“YouTube,” is all he offers as they step to the other side. It’s basic, but it’s a bit more than swaying.

“For my birthday?”

Aaron shakes his head, “No.”

Robert stops, Aaron feels shaky and he’s sure his palms are about to start sweating.

“Robert–”

He gets down on one knee and Robert automatically goes with him, which he wasn’t expecting. It makes him laugh.

“I had all this stuff I wanted to say about how I feel when I’m with you, how it’s always you, but…” He bites his lip, Robert is looking at him with a smile and soon to be glassy eyes, “it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Just you do.”

He fumbles into his pocket for the band he’s got in there, Robert’s ring, and he lays it out in his palm:

“I love you, Robert Jacob Sugden.” A huffed laugh from Robert, “I loved you then, I love ya now, ‘m always gonna love you.”

“So, will you please marry me?” The last bit comes out unsure, tacked on the end in a rush, in part, in case Robert does say no and he can laugh it off, no big deal.

“Aaron…” He covers Aaron’s hand with the ring with his own and leans forward to kiss him, light, and his mouth turning up into a smile as he does, “Yes.”

Yes?

“You said yes, right?”

“I did.” He squeezes Aaron’s hand and Aaron stares at where they’re joined.

“Okay.” His own mouth hurts from smiling so wide and he manages to get the ring on Robert’s finger before he drops it. Another kiss. Another laugh.

Another start, this time for good.

…with each word your tenderness grows and it tears my fears apart…

Chapter Text

4. “Shut up and kiss me.” 

Robert is a big deal. He’s in line to win an Oscar. Up until now he’s only been seen exclusively with women.

Aaron just feels like his hometown friend dragged out for the publicity. People try to take his photo and ask him about his borrowed suit, Armani, it feels nice, but its tight on his shoulders, arms and his hips, he isn’t as lean as Robert and he wanted one that he remembers Robert wearing.

Part of him cringes at how pathetic he is. How long he has held a torch for this brilliant, blinding shitshow of a man.

“Aaron!” Robert is smiling at him, wide, and holding two champagne flutes. More photos, ‘BTS’, he’s told. He takes the drink and forces himself not to down it.

A journo catches Robert, a hand on his shoulder and Aaron wants to shove it off. He turns, taking his smile and turning it on them.

“Roman, hi.” They shake hands and Robert stops Aaron from inching away by grabbing his forearm. “Have you met Aaron?”

“No, I haven’t.” Roman offers Aaron his hand and Aaron tries to keep his face blank as he shakes it. “Aaron is your friend from home, right?”

“Originally, yeah, we’ve known each other for years, but now he’s my boyfriend.” Robert takes a sip of his drink and looks at Aaron casually as he mentally exclaims at him.

“Boyfriend?”

He nods, smiling still, “Yeah, you know, I take him out for dinner and we have sex.”

He’s dead, that’s it. He’s so dead. Aaron downs his drink and grabs another one off the tray that’s going ‘round.

Roman produces a dictaphone from his breast coat pocket and Aaron goes to shove it away, but Robert stops him.

“How long has this been going on?”

“Dating? 6 months, but I’ve loved Aaron for years.” Robert smiles as him and everything inside him goes soft.

“Are you gay? Is this you coming out?”

Robert shakes his head, “I’m not gay, but I am bi. I also want to enjoy my night, see you later!”

A strong hand on the small of his back guides Aaron away into a corner.

“What did you just do?” He asks, bluntly.

“What? I just told my friend about my boyfriend.”

“Robert, come off–”

“Aaron, I want to take you out in public, where people can see us. See you.” Robert sighs, “You aren’t a lie, or a secret, or something I want to hide. You’re the most important person in my life.”

There’s something in his tone, a desperation that Aaron can’t deny. Robert has talked about this since they first slept together. All the things they’ll do now they’re a couple. Aaron was the one who told him to keep it quiet. For his career.

“Alright.” He agrees, not like he can take it back now.

Robert’s light blinding smile is back, “Yeah?”

“Yeah, so shut up and kiss me.”

It makes the front page, the pretty spectacular shot of Robert shoving his tongue in his mouth and he gets flack for it from everyone. Except Robert. He sits in their hotel room, put up for a party tonight, and eats his toast with a gentle smile that doesn’t blind, it doesn’t ever appear unless he’s alone with Aaron.

Then, a year to the day, there is another photo and it’s Robert kissing Aaron again, this time hands holding his face and there’s a glint of silver on his left hand.

Chapter Text

11. “I thought you didn’t want me.”

They’re leaning on the moulding wood of their bridge; where Aaron picked up a drunk Liv and brought her home, where Robert had proclaimed his eternal love for Aaron to Liv, and where Robert had declared his intentions to wait.

Robert knocks his shoulder against Aaron’s, “Hey.”

He shakes his head, he doesn’t want to talk.

“Aaron.”

It’s dark, but Robert can see his eyes are wet and he’s tucking his bottom lip between his teeth like he does when he doesn’t want to feel what he feels.

“Don’t.” It’s shaky and raw, and Robert is dying to reach out and touch him, but he doesn’t.

“But you said…”

“I know what I said.” Aaron scrubs at his face with his hand, his temper short.

“I thought you didn’t want me.” He can’t help but pick at the scab, the one that is barely a barrier to what Aaron has torn open tonight.

“Robert…” It’s a plea, it’s a soft cry of ‘don’t you know me at all?’

He’s sober now, Robert can tell, his previous merriment lost probably about the same time he leaned forward whispering ‘I love you’ and kissing Robert in the soft quiet outside the pub. He had pulled back slowly, Robert’s favourite soft smile on his face, but his own face a picture of confusion. Upon seeing it, Aaron had blinked, remembered they weren’t together and stalked off with Robert left to trail after him.

“Not me, that’s what you said.” He tugs on Aaron’s arm as he tries to turn away. “I’m still me.”

Aaron yanks his arm free and walks a few steps away before turning back again, “Well, that’s it, innit?”

You’re you. And I love you. Robert knows how to read between Aaron’s lines, he’s sat for hours running his fingers mentally over them as Aaron slept beside him and in the space he left when they broke up.

“Aaron–do…do you want to try again?”

He’s shaking his head no, but his body, his heart as Robert knows it, is open to him. He takes the risk, steps into Aaron’s space and hovers just within reach.

I love you.” He tells Aaron, his mouth a hairsbreadth away from his. Aaron doesn’t pull away, so he tells him again, against his mouth before he kisses him gently. Aaron’s hands go to his elbows when they grip his waist, just as they have always done and Robert’s own heart cries with relief. He feels whole in a way he hasn’t in months like when he takes in air, he can breathe.

He rests his forehead on Aaron’s when they part, automatically licking his lips to keep the taste of him, but Aaron reaches up and kisses him once softly of his own volition.

Aaron pulls away from him after that, but Robert isn’t cold without him. Or alone. He watches Aaron’s back and knows that things have changed between them here. Aaron wants him and he can’t take that back.

“I’ll text you, yeah?” He shouts at Aaron’s retreating form.

His phone buzzes and he checks it: Friday. 7.

Robert smiles wide and texts him back: Lkin fwd 2 it.

Chapter Text

10. Stay with me forever.

Sometimes you don’t know you’re in a dream, everything feels so real that you reach out and touch and think that you’re living your life.

This isn’t like that.

Aaron can feel the haze around him, the gauzy cloud-like feeling as he lays in his bed. His bed sheets are blue, he doesn’t own blue bed sheets. He rolls onto his side and Robert is lying on his stomach, his pillow tucked up under his head and his body as he smiles softly at Aaron. His hair is a mess and Aaron’s heart pounds to see if he can even touch this Robert.

He can. He finger walks up Robert’s back until he catches his amused smile.

“You alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Robert rubs his nose into his pillow and then beds down on it.

Aaron tries to talk, but no sound comes out, so he just presses a kiss to Robert’s freckled shoulder. He’s so warm.

“So, I was thinking, we could drive up to Manchester for the day, have dinner, be poncy knobs as you like to call it, you interested?”

He nods and skates his fingers down Robert’s arm until he offers his hand up for Aaron to lace his fingers with.

“Hey, are you gonna stay?”

It’s an odd question, but the room gets colder, Robert’s grip less tight on his hand.

Aaron manages to squeak out, “Robert.”

“It’s alright, Aaron. I’m not going anywhere. Just…promise me.” He squeezes Aaron’s fingers and Aaron turns their hands so that he can see Robert’s ring. “Promise me you’ll stay with me. Forever.”

The cold comes rushing in and Aaron feels himself fall into his bed as his eyes fly open. His chest is heaving from the rush of fear that falling gave him, but also for the tingle in his palm that he can still feel now he’s awake. He feels emptied out and hollow and he wipes his face because even though he doesn’t remember it, he knows he’s been crying.

It isn’t the first dream like that he’s had, and he doubts it will be the last. Over and over, given everything he wants only to feel it be ripped from him in a free fall.

His door is open and Gerry catches him, uncertain, he still pokes his head through the door, “You alright?”

His eyes fly up and he realises it’s not Robert. “Yeah, mate, I just…had a bad dream.”

Gerry nods in sympathy, “I know about them. Hot milk before bed works every time.”

Aaron gets up and closes his door. He’ll probably make it up to Gerry in some nonverbal way later, but right now he just needs to be alone. He lies back down on his bed, hand rubbing over where Robert used to sleep and wonders why he won’t stay. Aaron doesn’t dream when he falls back to sleep, and for that, he’s grateful.

Chapter Text

Robert spends a lot of time watching Aaron the next day. His back still feels swollen, it’s not, Aaron checked, but it presses on him when he lies on it so he’s on his belly and watching Aaron flick through his French book.

S’il vous plaît?” He’s muttering absently to himself and Robert snuggles himself further into his folded arms. “What?”

Robert shakes his head, “Nothin’.”

“Sod conversational French,” Aaron drops his pen on top of his translation dictionary.

Pas bein?” He winces as he rolls onto his back, but it’s worth it for a better look at Aaron’s exasperated face.

“And you’re not taking French why?”

Robert raises his eyebrows quickly and smiles, “Note from my doctor?”

“Don’t tell me. Just stop shoving it in my face.” Aaron lies down on him and he can’t help that he hisses as he grabs Aaron’s hips so that he stays where he is. It’s comforting to have him weighing Robert down. He’s real in a way few things are. Like the situation with his dad. They’ve always had a contentious relationship; Robert wanting to forge his own path away from the farm, his dad bringing Andy home and holding him up as this paragon of familial virtue. It just pushed Robert further away, of course, but he didn’t think it pushed his dad away from him to this extent.

The pain that lit up inside him when his dad leathered him tells him different.

Aaron isn’t even a man yet, despite his aspirations of a beard with the bum fluff on his chin and that he’s actually got something going down his neck, and he’s stronger in his convictions than Robert and his father combined.

“I’m gonna pop home later, get some stuff.” He says quietly as Aaron stops stroking his arm.

“I’ll come with.”

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Robert.”

Robert sighs, “Aaron, you’re angry and anger makes you reckless.”

He at least knows himself well enough to not disagree with that statement.

“I would love for you to come back with me, but it’s just gonna make it worse.” He admits. “I don’t—”

I don’t want to happen to me to happen to you because you’re with me

“I ain’t abandoning ya, Rob. I thought I had to, to be myself, but…” I came out. To my father at least.

Robert curls his hand up in Aaron’s hair and pulls him up enough for a kiss. It’s light, more a sharing of breath than a kiss, but they just rub their lips against each other and share the air until Aaron leans his forehead on Robert’s.

“Please don’t feel guilty.” Robert whispers, and Aaron tucks his face up in Robert’s neck and Robert wraps his arms around him when he quietly starts to shake. “It’s not your fault.”

 

 

 

“I can’t believe you actually told your mum we’re stargazing. She definitely thinks I’m deflowering her only son.” Robert shoves at Aaron as he unfolds the blanket he brought for their park date. They don’t use a telescope or anything, just pick out stars and constellations that they like and make up stories to go with them.

“I think you’ll find my flower is intact.” Aaron’s faux scowl actually lets him pull that statement off, but Robert is definitely filing that away for later as ‘embarrassing things Aaron has said’.

“Any time you wanna get on that—” Robert pulls at Aaron’s hips for effect and Aaron laughs as he sits himself down, pulling Robert next to him.

“What’s it feel like?” Aaron rolls onto his side, elbow supporting his head, stars forgotten.

Robert mirrors him, “Physically? Pressure—”

“No—” Aaron is pale in the moonlight, but Robert has known Aaron long enough to know that he’s blushing.

Robert hooks his leg over Aaron’s and puts his hand on his waist, “It’s like I’ve known you my whole life, all the stupid things you’ve done, the good things, the not so good things and none of it matters. How you feel, it’s nothing like anything I’ve ever had before.”

“Shut up.” Aaron turns away and Robert draws him back, moving his hand from Aaron’s waist to his face.

“You asked, and honestly, even if you never want to, I’m happy ‘cause I feel closer to you. It’s how I feel you love me.”

Aaron looks almost bewildered, “It’s just sex.”

Robert kisses him, “If you think that’s what it is then you’re doing it wrong.”

 

 

 

It doesn’t surprise him that Aaron falls asleep on his chest. Robert doubts he even slept at all last night, the guard dog that he is probably stared at the bedroom door all night as if he could stop anything that came through it.

Robert manages to eek Aaron’s exercise book over to him and the sheet of phrases he has to translate before he writes the answers out in pencil for Aaron to write in and then rub out.

Aaron is so quiet and peaceful that Robert loathes to wake him up, “Aaron, you need to eat.”

He grumbles, and Robert jabs his side. “Aaron. Food.”

Nothing.

“I’m hungry.”

The bear rises.

Wiping sleepily at his face, Aaron gets up on his all fours before sitting on his ankles, Robert rolling out from under him.

“We’ve got time for a fry up, you in?” Aaron gets himself up and pulls on a pair of joggers and a t-shirt to cover what was just his pants.

“Sounds good.” He smiles and grabs a vest that Aaron helps him with again. They also get a pair of joggers onto Robert, which he could have done himself, but he was having too much fun messing around with Aaron doing it. Pull Aaron, pull.

Aaron leaves him as is and he pulls one of Aaron’s hoodies out of the drawer, stuffing his feet into his trainers before he ambled downstairs, not to the kitchen, but out the front door.

So maybe his dad is right about this one thing: keep it in the family. Not because he’s ashamed but because he has something more important than shame. Love. He wraps himself further into Aaron’s hoodie and takes out his phone.

Rain check on breakfast x.

His phone starts ringing but he ignores the calls Aaron is making to text him again.

You can’t save everyone. I gotta save myself.

Robert doesn’t think he needs saving, he just needs to know either way: is he someone his dad can love or not? If not, that doesn’t scare him anymore. He has Aaron. He’s been there for him in ways his father could and would never be. He will survive this. He has to. It’s his life.

Chapter Text

His dad isn’t home when Robert gets in, so he grabs his P.E. bag and stuffs enough clothes inside to get by. He doesn’t want to leave, but he isn’t optimistic about his dad’s reaction. At this point, he will take being able to leave and not getting a belt across his back.

Taking his bag and putting it by the door, he potters around, makes a cup of tea and waits. He gets a couple more texts from Aaron, each of them calmer than the last as he realises that Robert has to face his dad without interference.

Dad comes in in muddy wellies and stops when he sees Robert. Robert realises how old his father looks now, as if his presence overcame it before.

“Why aren’t you in school?”

Robert wants to scoff, but decides it’s best not to antagonise the situation, “Weren’t feeling well.”

A short nod and Dad goes back to what he was doing.

“It isn’t going to go away, you know,” Robert says quietly. “I like both. I love Aaron.”

It hurts to put it in his father’s face like that. What he has with Aaron isn’t a weapon to be brandished in a family scuffle, it’s soft and good, and he hates himself a little bit for saying it.

“I’m not talking about your confusion right now, Robert.” It’s absent. Decided. He’s doing everything he can to not look at Robert.

It wasn’t decided when Robert lost his virginity in Aaron’s bedroom, took his in his own.

“I’m not confused, Dad. I’m bisexual. I could end up with either, but I know it’s gonna be Aaron.” It’s the truth he’s held inside himself for so long and even though Dad won’t accept it, it feels like fresh air after being suffocated for so long.

Still, it gets a reaction. If his dad can’t bully him then he’s going to blame Aaron. Robert stands up, he isn’t going to let that happen.

“I went after him, Dad. I knew he was gay, for years, and I watched him. I wanted him.” It’s like being on a roll, one thing after another falls out of him, “He had no idea until I waited for him to kiss me that I loved him.”

“Robert.” Enough.

“He’s my best friend and I love him. I know you aren’t okay with it.”

He doesn’t deny it.

“And I don’t need you to be, I just need you to let me walk out that door.”

His dad finally looks at him, incredulously.

“I won’t give him up,” Robert knows that’s what he was thinking, that if he could get Robert home he could knock some sense into him, “You can beat me ‘til I’m black and blue, but I’m still bisexual.”

Dad comes forward and Robert can’t help but shrink back as his dad grabs his shoulder, “You wanna be queer, don’t do it here. Not near Victoria or Andy.”

Robert feels that heavier than any belt, any slap, any fist. How disgusting his father finds him. He wants to collapse under it, instead he takes hold of that core part of himself, the part that brought him here and stood up to the bully his father is, and he shoves his dad’s hand off his shoulder.

“Bye, Dad.”

It’s goodbye to the life he knew, the father he knew because they will never recover from this, Robert can feel it. As long as Robert chooses Aaron, his father will never support him.

Dad straightens out, tries to make himself tall and imposing but Robert feels nothing towards him. He still loves him, he’s his dad, but he has no respect for this man.

He can’t help but take one parting jab, “You coulda been better than this. You could have been like Mum.”

 

 

 

They’re in the pub, Mum and Chas in one corner, Robert and Aaron having a sneaky shared half and playing with a pack of cards.

Aaron pops off to the toilet and Mum comes over and brushes his hair back, “Y’alright?”

“Hmm?” He looks up at her, tearing his eyes away from Aaron’s back. Robert feels embarrassed that his longing might have been exposed.

Mum laughs and she kisses the top of his head, “You keep that, Robert. What you have with Aaron.”

“He’s my best friend.” His heart is pounding in case she uncovers his secret.

Her smile is complicated, and Robert doesn’t quite understand it, “Exactly.”

 

 

 

“Your mum—”

“She knew, Dad. I didn’t know it then, but she knew.” Robert walks to get his bag and his dad follows him, probably to shout the odds of sacrilege, “She wanted that for me. To have someone I loved.”

He picks up the bag, “So you think that if you cut me off from Vic and Andy that I’ll come crawling home, denying that Aaron and I were anything, I won’t. I don’t need you to believe in me. Mum did.”

And I respect her more than you.

That is his final stuff you.

He walks out the door, gets to the end of the path and then he cries. Robert manages to get himself back into the village and he’s sitting on a bench when Aaron finds him and tucks his face against his chest.

“Robert—”

He rubs his face against Aaron’s hoodie as fresh tears spill and he feels cleansed.

“Let’s go home, yeah?” He says finally after he makes a disgusting sound drawing in air through his nose.

Aaron looks at him, to see if he’s sure before he nods, “Okay. Come on.”

 

 

 

He’s in school the next day. Chas conceded on letting them stay together in Aaron’s room the night before since it’s obvious that they’re together. And she’s going to finally get around to ordering Aaron a bigger bed. Aaron joked about it taking him getting a boyfriend for his mum to cave before he looked at Robert with a slightly panicked face.

Robert smiled and grabbed Aaron’s hand, “Well, your mum has always loved me best.”

Nonetheless, Robert gets tackled by Vic at break and she doesn’t let him go as she says, “Dad said you left, didn’t want to be a part of the family.”

Andy is hanging back with Katie, but it’s clear he knows what’s gone on with Robert leaving.

“Let him go, Vic, he’s in pain.” Andy scolds her gently. Robert looks at him, wonders how he knows about the tenderness of his back.

“What?” Vic turns around to Andy.

There’s something that passes between them, maybe for the first time, Robert feels like he has a real brother and it’s their job to protect Victoria.

“Robert, just come home.” She carries on and Andy puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Leave it,” He pulls her off Robert before he hugs Robert to him. He lets his arms go around Andy even though it feels wrong and he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

Andy smiles, “Be happier where you are, yeah?”

It’s the kind of acceptance he’s never experienced from his brother and he doesn’t know what to do with it.

Aaron comes up behind them, freed from his class, and he’s sort of awkwardly standing there when Andy nods his head towards him. Robert lets Andy go before he grabs his bag and offers Aaron his hand. Andy is leading the girls away to give them space, but Aaron looks at his hand and then him, unsure, but he takes it anyway. Robert laces their fingers together as they head to the other building. He then presses a kiss to Aaron’s temple and people start whispering, pointing and Robert holds Aaron’s hand tighter.

“We can stop—” Aaron offers.

“Why? You’re the one I want to be with.” Robert stops him for a full-on snog in the playground and as much as Aaron hates public displays of anything, his hands go to Robert’s waist and he allows himself to reassure and be reassured through their kiss.

That’s when the questions start, and Aaron ignores them all and no one dares brave his mood to push further. Robert folds himself around Aaron at lunch and eats his sandwich while rubbing his back and telling anyone who will listen that they’re in love. Aaron stares particularly hard at the table when he does that, and Robert kisses his neck to apologise for the embarrassment.

But it spreads. People probably speculate on their orientation but none of it ever reaches their ears, all that does is people congratulating them on their bravery.

Victoria puts two and two together and when she calls him after school, she promises Robert that she’ll fix it.

“I don’t need it fixing, Vic, Dad doesn’t want a son like me, fine. I’m happy where I am with Aaron.”

She protests, but gives up to Robert’s solidity on the situation. In the end, she tells him she loves him and that she’ll be round later for tea and a catch up.

Aaron is getting changed out of his uniform when Robert puts his backpack down in what is now their room.

“Hey, we’ll be okay.” He tells him.

“Yeah, people are okay with it today, what about tomorrow?” Aaron mumbles.

“Then tomorrow, we let you loose on them and you scare them into submission. It’s like I told my dad, we aren’t going away, Aaron. You got yourself stuck with me, good and proper.” He laughs and kisses Aaron’s forehead.

“How can you be so sure of that?”

Robert looks at him, “’cause I’m sure of you.”

They hold each other’s hands again and they play with each other’s fingers while Robert tells Aaron his truth: “I wouldn’t have done this for myself. I would’ve hid and hated myself, but I love you more than that.”

It’s a big statement for two teenagers just trying to figure themselves out, but it’s how Robert feels.

“Maybe we don’t work out, maybe your feet smell too much,” A shove, “but you make me strong. You always have.”

Aaron nods slowly in agreement.

“If this isn’t what—” Robert starts to pull away and Aaron holds his hand tight.

“I don’t want ya to regret this.” Aaron sighs and Robert smiles.

“I could never regret the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Aaron flips him off for being cheesy, but he hugs Aaron to him, nose pressed against his neck.

“Just let me love you.”

Robert can tell Aaron isn’t completely okay with everything, the whispers more real than anything he could have imagined and despite wanting this freedom, it’s a lot to contend with.

“I love you.” He tells him, hands gripping his waist, “I love you. I love you.”

“Come off it.” Aaron pulls away from him and finishes getting changed, but he seems happier in himself, even if he’s still got a face on.

“Vic is coming over later, I think she wants to gossip about how you landed a catch like me.” Robert hip checks Aaron as he gets out of his own shirt and Aaron rolls his eyes at him.

“Sure, a real catch.”

Robert pretends to be offended, “Best catch you’ll ever have, mate.”

 

 

 

Aaron’s tucked them up under his duvet, his arm loose on Robert’s waist and his leg between Robert’s thighs to keep it warm.

“Stop fretting,” Aaron mumbles and Robert turns his head as much as he can without moving.

“I’m not.”

“Mhmm.” The ‘that’s why I hear you thinking from here’ is unspoken.

“We just had sex.” Robert tests it out like a flavour in his mouth and Aaron snuggles him tighter.

“We did.” Are you okay with that?

“I never thought—” He doesn’t know how he wants to say this, but the twitch of Aaron’s hand tells him he’ll wait and listen to what Robert has to say. “My first like that was someone I love.”

Robert feels cracked open and vulnerable in a way that isn’t covered by telling someone you love them for the first time, or giving them your body, it’s a naked fear that can’t be bolstered by anything else.

 “Me too.” A kiss pressed on the uppermost vertebrae, Robert feels Aaron’s words cover his underbelly with a shared kind of armour. Whatever happens, even if they break up, even if they get married, they were in this together, in love, and nothing can change that. Aaron is now a real part of the fabric of Robert’s history. He’s no longer the boy Robert loved in secret, too scared and too ashamed to tell him how he felt. He’s his first love and Robert is that for him too.

Aaron noses his spine, where he placed his kiss, “I’m glad it was you.”

And just like that, Robert gets the same opportunity to protect Aaron, “Me too.”

 

 

 

“Whatever, let me know when Vic gets here.” Aaron has to go out into the bar and do glasses pick up, Robert is let off because of his back still, and he gives Robert a kiss before he heads down.

It’s hard to believe that one summer changed so much, that one kiss changed everything, but when Robert thinks about it, the kiss didn’t change them, but rather the status quo. A kiss is a thousand different possibilities, outcomes, and Robert took every single one of them, some good, some bad, and he has everything to show for it. But he isn’t the only one. Aaron picked him too, he wanted him right back. Now they have even more possibilities ahead of them and Robert wonders what choices will carry them through the next phase of their lives.

Doesn’t matter. Not as long as I have him.  

So, one summer in their lives, Robert Sugden had the fortitude to tell Aaron Dingle that he loved him, by accident, of course, but every time after that was a choice because Aaron will always be that one that Robert wants.

Chapter Text

The invite is embossed in gold, Aaron flips it in his fingers and looks at Robert, “We don’t have to go, you know.”

Robert shrugs, Aaron can tell it’s an enforced nonchalance, his husband is dying to know what’s changed in Home Farm since the Whites left.

“Or we could. Since he’s your cousin, n’all.”

“By marriage, years ago.” If the sound ‘pfft’ came out in words, it would be what Robert just said.

“Then what you fussing over, get your suit on and let’s go.” Aaron stands up and Robert is still looking at him. “What?”

“Nothin’, you take a shower, I’ll be sorting things out.” Robert goes up first to do lord knows what and Aaron watches Robert’s back as he walks away. It doesn’t take a genius to know that something is going on with him, he just wonders what and how much it will take to figure out what it is.

~*~

It’s opulent, Aaron will give Joe that. It’s nice in the monochrome of it all, dashes of rich navy chaise lounges in the living room while people in penguin suits mill about with champagne. It’s a bit knobby, but rich people never really made sense to Aaron. Why not spend your money on something actually useful?

He’s in his black suit, but this time he’s got a charcoal grey bow tie that Robert bought him for his recent birthday because he liked the thought of it on Aaron. So, Aaron humoured him and put it on. Well, Robert did three times because he kept pulling it off when he gave Aaron a kiss. Robert’s got his three-piece blue suit on like it’s amour and he slips his hand around Aaron’s waist after Aaron takes two glasses for them from a passing tray.

“You gonna tell me what’s with you or am I gonna have to guess?” He’s getting a little miffed at this point and Robert looks past his head and Aaron has had enough, “Oi, you know I’m here, right?”

“What?” Robert looks down at him and blinks like he finally realises that Aaron is talking to him, “Sorry.”

“Drink this and sort your face out.” Aaron hands him the glass and drinks half of his own.

Aaron is about to take another dig at him for his rigid spine when Joe comes up to them with a big smile on his face.

“Robert!” He extends his hand and Robert shakes it, a little unwilling in Aaron’s opinion, “And you must be Aaron.”

Aaron is about to offer his hand when Robert steps in front of him like a six-foot golden retriever.

“Alright, Joe.” Robert’s tone is cool. Things start slotting into place and Aaron wonders if he shouldn’t have pushed for them to come.

“Yeah, good, mate, good. Business as usual.” Joe doesn’t even seem to react to Robert’s snub. “How’s things for you?”

“Good business, warm bed, great husband. Living the high life, me.”

Joe laughs and squeezes Robert’s hand before letting it go, “You’ll have to tell me what that’s like. You will excuse me, won’t you?”

Robert nods and doesn’t move until Joe has passed him, and Aaron, without incident.

“What was that?” He collars Robert with a hand on his wrist.

“Nothing.”

“Bullshit.”

Aaron waits and Robert sighs, “You know what he did to Debbie.”

“Yeah, and? Debbie’s a big girl, she’s taken on bigger and uglier dickheads. Your brother included.” He sets his drink down and folds his arms.

Some foot scuffling and Robert finally comes out with it: “He did it to punish Charity. He took Dingle Farm to hurt the Dingles.”

And I’m a Dingle.

“I drank from the welly so, I know where my loyalties lie.”

Aaron has Dingles coming out of his ears and Robert would deny his one connection outside his immediate family because he won’t risk that person hurting anyone Aaron loves.

“And his hair is too tall.” Robert forces a smile as he drinks the rest of his drink before putting it with Aaron’s.

“Robert, talk to him. Properly.”

“What, no.”

Aaron pulls on his sleeve again, “You drank out the welly, you’re a Dingle, but I married ya so I’m a Sugden. Joe’s family in his own twisted way and it’s a lack of that that got him here.”

He leans forward and tries to imbue the kiss, a press of lips really, that he gives Robert with all the love he feels for him, “Show him what it’s like to have a family.”

~*~

He sends Robert packing with a tap on his arse, which was both a blessing and curse because it hyped them both up for nothing happening very soon. Aaron just takes his glass and wanders about a bit. He’s at the far end of one corridor fiddling with his phone when Joe comes down to talk to him.

“I don’t what you said–”

Aaron stops him by standing up, “I told Robert that family is important. His family is important.”

He takes a step forward, “But you know what else? He’s my family. That ring on his finger means you mess him about, you’ll have more to worry about than whether or not you pissed our Debbie off.”

Joe barely moves when Aaron knocks him with his shoulder and it impresses him, it does, but he won’t push Robert towards something unless he knows for sure that he can protect him or be there for when it falls apart.

He finds Robert in the kitchen with a smooth hand sliding against his waistcoat under his jacket and a kiss coming around to his jaw when he turns to meet Aaron’s mouth.

Robert is smiling, brightly, even though it’s small. He has someone now, a connection all his own and it means something dear to him.

“Don’t know about you, but I’m knackered, time for a bit of telly and a curry?” Aaron offers and Robert laughs, light and clear before he nods.

“You lasted longer than I thought you would.” Robert tucks his hands under Aaron’s blazer and it’s soft and intimate even in this public setting.

He shrugs, “The drink was free.”

Another laugh and Robert is leading him out when he stops and waves to Joe, Aaron choosing to nod at him instead.

Yeah, he’ll do this for Robert. He’ll even do it for Joe, who is so like Robert when he first came home that it hurts Aaron a little bit, but he’s doing it with both eyes wide open because as much as he’s like Robert and he could have what Robert does, Aaron, coldly, doesn’t feel the same kindness in him. Something in him is broken, and either it heals, or they’re going to regret ever knowing the name Joseph Tate.

Chapter Text

Robert storms out the pub. Losing Rebecca wasn’t what he wanted; for his son to live the life he did, to know how empty he’ll feel in the space where she should be. She should have got to see her son walk, talk, go to school, leave school, get married, live his life and they’ll get none of it.

“Robert!” Aaron’s calling him, “Robert, wait!”

“People are already gloating and she isn’t even in her grave!” Robert throws his hands up, “Do they not even realise she’s got barely 4-month-old baby who will never remember what she looked like? Do they even care?”

Aaron manages to catch up with him and grabs hold of his forearms, but Robert shakes him off, “Don’t.”

“This ain’t your fault.”

“Isn’t it? Wasn’t it you who said look at where it got me? Got Rebecca?” He spits the words and Aaron looks down at the floor.

His voice is soft, “I didn’t mean that.”

“Didn’t you? ‘Cause everyone does and they’re right.” Robert starts walking again and Aaron keeps chasing him.

“Robert, you didn’t know Chrissie would lose control.”

“I should never have risked it! I should have fought the legal way like I was going to.” He’s practically shouting everything now. “I couldn’t lose him and now he’s lost everything.”

Aaron looks at him with pleading eyes, “He’s got you.”

“It’s–” Robert can’t make Aaron understand, he has a mum who loves him, fiercely, as much as he hates it sometimes, “it’s a hole that never goes away. She’s his mum and she’ll only ever be an idea to him and that’s on me.”

He feels too hot like his skin is burning up and he pulls his jacket off, Aaron tries to stop him because it’s only February and it’s been snowing, but he wants it gone.

“I ruined everything.” It collapses him, internally and externally, his body crumples and he’s on his knees. He stuffs his jacket up and pushes his face into it and cries, letting out everything he cannot change in the hopes it will dig out the ugliness that is living inside him. He cries for Rebecca, the mother she will never be, for Seb and all the things he’ll never have, and for himself because he will never forgive himself for being the source of his son’s pain.

Aaron kneels down with him, wraps his arms around Robert and holds him, not rocking, not trying to move him, just a solid press against his shoulder and side as his fingers lace together around Robert’s other arm.

“It’s alright, Robert, let it out.” He hushes as Robert drops his jacket and turns his face into Aaron’s chest and he clasps his hands around Aaron’s back. A hand gentles through his hair and Robert feels Aaron rest his lips on the crown of his head, moving his hair when he murmurs nonsense. He doesn’t know how long they stay like that, but Robert’s eyes feel raw and crusty and his lip trembles as his shoulder shake.

Aaron guides him to stand, “You can’t stay out here, come on.”

But he shoves Aaron away, “Just go, Aaron.”

His face shows shock. It’s not big or taking up his whole face, but it’s there in the furrow of his brow, the way his mouth is a little bit open.

“It’s not like there’s anything here for you.” It’s cold and matter of fact.

“You’re upset and I’m your mate,” Aaron tells him in a measured voice.

Robert shrugs as his tears start again, “Maybe I don’t deserve friends.”

Aaron wraps him up in another hug, one he can’t get free of, and tells him, “What about what you said to me, huh? ‘Bout being my best friend? You ditching me now?”

He presses his face into Aaron’s shoulder, “I’ve done such terrible things.”

“Not this, Robert, everything else, sure, but not this.” Aaron’s voice is breathless like he needs Robert to believe it more than anything else. “Not this.”

There’s a pitter-patter of water on his neck and shoulders and he looks up, Aaron with him as the rain starts to fall. It’s cold and it seeps into his skin and almost immediately to his bones as he continues to stare, but Aaron is trying to put his jacket on him when he drops his arms to stop him. Robert lets the rain drip on his face and then when it turns into a waterfall, he lets it almost drown him.

He brings his head down eventually to look at Aaron even though it’s nearly impossible, only Aaron’s watching Robert, assessing him for some reason Robert cannot comprehend and he ignores it. He puts his arm through one sleeve of his jacket when Aaron cups his face and kisses him. His mouth is cold and Robert only kisses him for a moment before he leans down and away. He looks into familiar blue and he doesn’t understand why. Aaron draws him back in with a hand on the back of his neck. Robert gives up a little gasp as Aaron bites him to get him to open his mouth before he sweeps inside. Robert’s back is soaked and his jacket is hanging off his arm as he cups Aaron’s face and he presses his thumbs into the hinges of Aaron’s jaw, his fingers cradling the back of his head as they work each other’s mouths, sliding hotly against each other. It’s over almost as soon as it starts and Aaron takes a step back.

“I–” Aaron stumbles.

“It’s fine–”

“Rob–” Aaron catches his hand as Robert steps back, “You’re not alone.”

He smiles soft and wan, “Thanks.” And he means it.

The rain eases like a curtain being pulled back and their kiss remains hidden by its watery fabric.

Robert looks up again, “I have to go. Seb.”

Aaron nods, “Yeah. He’s gonna need ya.”

He has a hundred things he wants to say, but Aaron isn’t finished.

“And you can do it. I still believe in ya.”

Another kiss isn’t appropriate, the mood has gone, so Robert slides his hand up onto Aaron’s cheek and holds it there, brushing his thumb back and forth.

“I don’t think I ever deserved you, you know.” It’s something he’s thought for a while, how easily he made mistakes that hurt so many people, but nearly destroyed Aaron. “I’m just glad I got to love you for a little bit.”

He shrugs his jacket on and Aaron just stares after him and doesn’t stop him when he walks away this time.

Chapter Text

Robert realises he doesn’t really understand what peace is until he comes home from Tesco, bags in hand and a little bit mad that he’s had to fight with the door as well, despite calling Aaron. The reason for it is because Aaron is on the settee with Seb up high on his chest, his little rainbow outfit on, holding his bum as he hums quietly to him. Seb snuffles and rubs his face against Aaron’s jumper, possibly trying to feel closer to the rumbling of his voice, and Aaron checks he’s still quiet with a gentle hand rubbing down his head and holding his back.

Aaron had asked for this time with him, wanting to get to know Seb a little better. He doesn’t stay when Robert does, Victoria gets to spend her auntie time giving him tons of cuddles and shooing Robert out the door, so even now their interaction has been minimal. Robert wasn’t hesitant in the sense that he didn’t want to leave Seb with Aaron. He was scared, he is scared, that Aaron will look at his son and decide it’s still too much and leave him again.

“Y’alright? What you standing there gawping for?” Aaron looks at him and his bags, the milk has made a break for it and slipped out along with the cheese.

He shakes his head, thinks on his feet: “The door sticks.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Aaron sounds sure as he gets up, still holding Seb and manages to grab a bag while still holding him against his chest. “God, how much did ya get? I only sent you out for stuff to shove in a sandwich.”

“You can’t keep living on sandwiches, didn’t you read the cookbook I left in the kitchen?” He’s opening the fridge and putting away the chilled items as Aaron leans against the counter next to him.

“Here, I’ll do that, you take ‘im.” They trade and Seb comes to rest on his chest and he fusses because he misses the tenor of Aaron’s voice.

Robert gives Seb a couple of little bounces as he walks around the kitchen, trying to get him back on side. He settles down and Robert suspects he’s hankering for a bottle.

“I’m just gonna–” He nods his head at Seb and Aaron looks at him and smiles.

“Okay.”

Seb drinks heartily, burps on Robert’s shirt and falls asleep on the mat that Robert brought over with him when he’s laid back down.

Aaron’s made them both a cup of tea that he puts the furthest away from Seb even though he’s only just sort of learning to roll onto his belly at the moment, and Robert tells him that.

“You can’t be too careful,” Aaron points out and jangles one of the colourful birds as he passes Seb and sits down next to Robert, hand coming to cup his thigh. “It was nice with ‘im today. He’s a good baby.”

He thinks about those first few days after the accident when Seb cried and cried for Rebecca, how even as small as he is, he knew enough to know that she wasn’t there anymore.

“He’s settling. The longer Rebecca stays asleep…” He stops. His fear climbs again.

Aaron dissipates it somewhat with a squeeze above his knee, “You think he’s forgetting her.”

“I worry he is. I know I’m not supposed to, but I lay him on her sometimes, hoping she’ll remember he’s here and waiting for her.” Robert sighs and draws away. This is what he didn’t want, bringing his problems into his relationship with Aaron.

Aaron moves to rub his back, “She’ll get there.”

He stands up and goes to grab his tea.

“Robert.”

Aaron has Robert at 30 paces at any given moment, so he doesn’t even bother trying to hide his discomfort as he turns around. His gaze is level somewhere at Aaron’s knees.

“We can talk about her. About him. I ain’t gonna break.”

Robert remembers the plasters that covered his pain and he isn’t convinced.

“She’s a problem for you. He’s a problem for you.”

He doesn’t know what he’s expecting, but it isn’t anger. Or is it frustration?

“I wouldn’t’a got back with ya if I thought she was a problem. Either of them. I asked to spend time with Seb today because I’m trying.”

Robert nods and he meets Aaron’s eye, “Yeah, and is try a word you really wanna use for our relationship?”

“Where is this coming from?” Aaron gets up and Seb starts wriggling like he’s about to kick up, so Aaron scoops him up as Robert still has his tea in hand. He does the same bouncing motion that Robert did in the kitchen. “If you think try is a dirty word then maybe the problem isn’t me.”

“I can’t do it again, Aaron.” He doesn’t know where it comes from but it comes spilling out of him like a waterfall being held back by a silk ribbon, “You thinking that you’re okay and you’re not.”

Robert puts down his tea and takes Seb back from Aaron, his face is screwing up either for a scream or a poop. Maybe both.

Aaron looks a little lost without Seb to hold and he automatically folds his arms, “It’s been a long time since I was that hurt.”

He’s gone about this all wrong, he can see Aaron retracting a bit because he thinks Robert is digging into him but that’s not it.

“Aaron–” He stops, takes a breath, “You were right. Seb is here and he’s here. Him and me, we’re a two-person package deal.”

“And?”

“And I can’t undo that like you said, and I can’t, I can’t cope if you’re not okay with this.” You offered me the world and I won’t survive if you take it back. He wills Aaron to understand.

“That’s why we try, Robert. I spend time with him, with you together and he becomes a part of my life. I’m not his dad, that ain’t what this is about, but I want his dad in my life. He’s a baby, Robert. He didn’t do anything wrong, I know that.”

Seb picks his moment to fart and most definitely follow through. Robert wrinkles his nose and Aaron laughs as he grabs Seb’s baby bag. The play mat doubles as a changing mat so he lays him down and starts freeing him from his clothes, unpopping his babygrow when Aaron starts laying out what he needs.

“All of that last year, not all of it was about you. I’ve moved on, you need to as well.” Aaron cups the back of his neck and kisses the side of his head as he leaves Robert to change his son while he goes upstairs.

Robert stares after him until Seb starts kicking his legs and Robert undoes his diaper for the total damage. It’s bad, but he’s used to it now.

He’s about to start popping Seb back together when Aaron comes down with a bag. Robert draws his eyebrows in and Aaron looks at him with a soft, sheepish smile.

“I, uh, bought this not so long ago.” Aaron shoves the bag at him and Robert takes out a sky blue babygrow with feet and mittens that has a big soft patterned penguin on its belly. “I’m trying, Robert, I mean it, but you gotta meet me halfway.”

You have to trust that I’m gonna be here.

Robert realises that it has no tags because it’s been washed, just like all baby clothes are supposed to be. His heart swells as he takes off Seb’s outfit completely and puts him in his new one and touches his cloth covered feet. It’s a little bit big but it just means he has space to grow into it.

“It’s great, thank you. He needed stuff for when he’s bigger.” Seb is falling asleep so it’s time for Robert to take him home and put him to bed. Aaron reaches over and rubs Seb’s penguin tummy before he grabs the car seat from down the side of the armchair.

Robert tucks Seb in with his now matching blue blanket, probably why Aaron bought it and Aaron stops him as he’s folding the mat away.

“Are we alright?” There’s concern there and Robert drops the mat on the settee before pulling Aaron into a hug.

“I just really love you.” He tells Aaron as he presses their cheeks together and then he kisses him there, the corner of his mouth and then his lips. “I want you, but I want you to be happy.”

Aaron softens and kisses Robert back, “I ain’t happy without you.”

So, we try.

“Maybe you could spend the night at mine soon.” Robert hedges. A night at his means a full night with Seb.

They share another, longer, kiss, Aaron resting his forehead against Robert’s: “Sounds good.”

Chapter Text

It’s not Netflix and chill so much as Netflix and hands strictly over clothes and above the waist. Although, Robert does push his luck by shoving his hand up Aaron’s t-shirt, pinching his nipple for a laugh, and gets chased around the settee when he launches himself off Aaron after he’s done it.

Robert is currently trying to get Seb onto a better sleep schedule, and it’s 7pm and they’re waiting for a pizza as he stops, catching sight of Seb in his bassinet.

“Is he falling asleep?” He asks.

Aaron pffts, “You ain’t getting out of this that easy.”

“No, I mean it, is he asleep?” Robert starts to come around and Aaron is by Seb, so he puts a hand on his tummy and rocks him gently. Seb wakes back up and starts to cry. Aaron looks at him with an ‘oh shit’ face and Robert scoops him up.

“I’m sorry, mate, you need to stay up a bit longer.” He hushes Seb as his tiny lungs work overtime and he feels terrible and cruel despite what the books say. Robert feels Aaron at his back and he’s brushing a hand over Seb’s head where it’s resting on Robert’s shoulder and he can feel the heat of Aaron’s chest so close to his own skin.

The door goes and the warmth disappears as Aaron goes to pay the Pizza Hut bloke. Seb isn’t wailing anymore, but he’s still crying and his nose is wet as he hiccups against Robert’s top.

“I dunno how you do it,” Aaron tells him as he puts the pizzas down. There’s hot wings and garlic bread on top and the smell is distracting as he rocks Seb back and forth. “I woulda just let him sleep.”

“Yeah, well, the book says–”

“The book?” 

“It’s one of those complete how-to guide things. It’s supposed to help with stability and feeding times.” Robert grabs Seb’s soft giraffe and waves it in front of his face and lets him latch onto it and put its neck in his mouth. 

“Ain’t he eating all the time anyway? Does it matter when he sleeps?” Aaron opens up the first box, Texan BBQ on Italian crust. He sits down next to Aaron and balances Seb on his chest and makes a grabby motion for a slice of pizza.

“Please?” He asks and Aaron hands him one of the slightly smaller pieces so it doesn’t go everywhere. “I don’t like waking him up from sleep too much. He coughs more; like he isn’t ever awake enough for a feed.”

Aaron takes the slice next to it and turns it into a scoop before biting off the end, “You’re the dad.”

He is the dad, and Seb is still awake and gumming on his giraffe while Robert eats his pizza, aided by Aaron, who eventually takes Seb and puts him back in his basket with his giraffe and an apology tickle for waking him up. That’s when Robert opens up the wings and has to fight Aaron for the fattest one. He gives it up because he knows he likes garlic bread more and Aaron will still choose to kiss him afterwards.

When they’re both fat and happy from food, he clears away the boxes and covers what’s leftover on a plate to go into the fridge and he checks the time, almost 8. He starts prepping a bottle and Aaron checks on him before going to get Seb. His giraffe has been displaced by Aaron’s fingers as Seb grabs onto them when Aaron wiggles them in front of him. The bottle is done so he hands it to Aaron and he looks at Robert in question.

He shrugs, “He’s happy where he is.”

So Aaron pops the bottle into Seb’s mouth as they migrate back to the sofa for another episode of the Netflix true crime series they’ve both been watching. Robert puts his arm around Aaron like they’re on a 50s cinema date and he’s had to yawn to get away with it, but Aaron just takes the opportunity to cuddle in closer to him, Seb facing the other way to normal in Aaron’s arms is now in the middle and sucking away.

A guy gets his head smashed in, not one bone in his face intact before being tied up and buried in a grave with his hands and feet tied. The killer? His college best friend.

“People are awful.” Robert surmises as Aaron shifts to give him Seb. He’s slowed drinking and is starting to fall asleep again. Lifting him up he starts getting ready to wind him. It’s his own fault he doesn’t do it with a cloth, but he’s getting changed in a bit so he just pulls his top up and wipes Seb’s mouth. “Good job, buddy.”

Robert has a sniff, he doesn’t need to be changed so he takes the opportunity to swaddle Seb and lay him back down for hopefully a good couple of hours before his next feed. He chucks his shirt off in the heap of clothes that needs washing for the day. He usually just piles them up next to Seb’s bassinet and he grabs a clean top off the table, another permanent feature now, as Aaron sneaks up behind him and kisses his back before he sorts the shoulders out of his top and it drops down to cover him. They’re not going to sleep together tonight, but it’s nice that Aaron still fosters that closeness when he can. Robert returns the favour by backing Aaron to sit on the arm of the settee and pulling his top up to kiss his belly, hands cradling the small of his back. He stands up and tips Aaron back, climbing back over the settee and Aaron to their original make out position. Aaron’s hands touch his back again and Robert wants. He does. But he makes do with pouring all of that into their kisses.

Aaron pants when Robert is done with him, his lips shiny and hips abortively rocking. Robert leans his head on Aaron’s chest and groans.

“Come on, it’s not that bad.”

Robert looks up at him, “Clearly you and I have very different definitions of ‘bad’.”

“Robert.”

He lets Aaron slide out from under him and it feels very wrong. He sighs as they put another episode on, but Aaron sweetly offers him his hand and Robert is gone. No sex? Fine. 100% sold on hand-holding with one Aaron Dingle. He starts to yawn and they slowly get closer together when Aaron eventually tugs on his hand.

“Bed, you.” It’s soft, with a hint of a command and Robert shakes his head weakly. He’s tired, so tired, but he wants more time with Aaron. Even though he’s gonna be here all night, it’s not enough. Robert has to be awake for every moment. “Grab your boy and let’s go.”

Robert lets Aaron pull him up and he picks up Seb who doesn’t even peep as he’s carried upstairs by Robert.

His room is tiny, made tinier by all of Seb’s things that seem to cover every surface. As it is he’s had to push his bed against the far wall so that Seb’s co-sleeper doesn’t take up all of the free space, and he’s already had to warn Aaron that he’s gonna have to sleep on the wrong side of the bed. He’s opening up his overnight bag and taking out his pyjamas as Robert lays Seb down and he unbuttons his jeans.

Robert doesn’t know why he says it but he does, “You did good tonight, with him.”

Aaron smiles, “Yeah? Thanks.”

It’s something they do now, they affirm the good things about their relationship, the things they enjoy, in the hopes that it will help them to keep doing them.

They brush their teeth one at a time so someone is always keeping an eye on Seb, and Robert unswaddles him to get him into his sleep suit. It’s one he picked out that’s white with silver stars and crescent moons all over it, with a little owl who sits on a big moon where the breast pocket would be. Robert checks there’s nothing in the co-sleeper before he puts Seb down and gets into bed with Aaron. With the change in sleeping arrangements, it feels natural for Robert to be the little spoon facing Seb as Aaron cuddles up behind him.

Robert feels Aaron kiss the back of his neck, but he doesn’t even reply because he’s already sleeping.

***

Robert rolls over and checks his watch, it’s 1am. Seb should have been fed an hour ago. He flips back and wallops Aaron in the leg by accident.

“Ow!” He’s sitting up in bed, now the other side of Robert with Seb feeding on a bottle in his arms as they’re next to the co-sleeper.

“You’re feeding him.” Robert isn’t awake yet so it’s hard to comprehend what’s happening.

“Yeah, he was fussing and you were asleep, so I got him and took him downstairs.” Aaron shows Seb to him as if to prove that’s what happened. Aaron has him in his blue blanket drinking his milk and holding Aaron’s bed t-shirt, his tiny hand flexing and grabbing the material. “You left instructions on the fridge, and it’s not like I have a bunch of little cousins I’ve been taking care of my nearly whole life or anything.”

Robert sits up and Aaron hands Seb over, unclenching his tiny fist from himself to do it.

“I changed him as well. He must’ve just done it before I picked him up. We’ve had lots of cuddles. He really likes that rabbit.”

In the duvet is Seb’s little rabbit with the oversized soft ears he likes to pull on.

“How long have you actually been up?” Robert sits Seb on his thighs where he’s folded his legs so that his feet are flat to the bed.

“Mmm. Hour or so.”

It comes to burping time and Robert realises he doesn’t have a cloth again, but Aaron picks Seb up from him as he’s got one already on his shoulder. In a bit of good luck, Seb burps but he leaves Aaron unsoiled so Aaron just frees him from his blanket and lays him softly back into his bed. Robert puts all the used stuff on his bedside table and Aaron hasn’t moved from where he was.

In fact, he’s moved to lie down, back to Robert.

Scooting up behind Aaron, Robert realises he’s got his hand out, Seb holding onto his index finger which he gently waves so that Seb can still grasp it in his tiny hand as it moves. Robert tucks his face into Aaron’s shirt covered back because it’s too much. It’s too everything.

“It’s one bottle feed, Rob, calm down.” Aaron jokes with him and Robert laughs.

“I like when my boys bond.” He admits. Aaron’s openness towards Seb has been a godsend when he’s made zero headway with Liv. He doesn’t expect to for a good while, she’s still incredibly angry at him despite her support of Aaron’s choices. He’s trying not to buy her affection, as if he could, but at this point, he’d take it for a crack in the door. 

“Give her time.” Aaron starts tapping out a rhythm and Robert watches his son focus on Aaron’s finger as it bounces his hand. Aaron’s perceptive abilities are frankly borderline super at this point and he hates that he’s so transparent in how much he wants Liv to like him again. “I didn’t help things by keeping it from her.”

“You were hurting.” He swallows and Aaron looks behind himself.

“Yeah, but you were her family too.”

That hurts, but it just steels his resolve to try harder. If Aaron can lie in bed at night and play with Seb then he can get the door repeatedly slammed in his face. He grew on her once, he can do it again.

Aaron nods his head, “I think he’s going again.”

Robert leans over Aaron’s shoulder. Seb’s eyes are slowing their blinks and his grip is slackening.

“Better take your chances and sleep, he could be up in an hour screaming his head off.” He wraps his arm around Aaron’s waist as Aaron gently takes his hand away from Seb. He opens his eyes again and wriggles to look for Aaron, but he’s too tired to keep trying and he falls asleep.

Aaron pulls Robert’s hand tighter around himself and he drifts off pretty quickly, a trait Robert has always envied Aaron for, but he takes it as quiet time to just watch him breathe and be. Not so long ago he never thought he’d ever be with Aaron again, let alone with him and his son. It’s all still tenative and Robert fears fraying the edges with too many nights like this, but like with Liv, it gives him hope that they can make it work.

With the best night’s sleep he’s had in awhile, he manages to not only be up in time for Seb’s next feed, he manages to get him while he’s still asleep and Aaron is undisturbed. Or he assumes so. He gets back into bed and Aaron opens his arms, lying on his back, and welcomes Robert to lie on his chest as Aaron wraps his arms around his shoulders. Seb doesn’t sleep this time, just wriggles happily, and Robert watches him from where he is with the happiest feeling he’s had in a long while.

So, Aaron’s first sleepover? Roaring success.

Chapter Text

It’s an absurdly hot day in August when they pile into the car for a trip to Brighton. Aaron is driving, Liv in the passenger’s seat, Robert in the back with Seb, well, almost because Gerry is between them and he squeezes back anytime that Robert needs to check on his son. He’s doing good, burbling away to himself in his little sailor’s outfit of a stripy blue vest, a swimming nappy and shorts. Aaron turns up the air conditioning in the car and Robert squeezes his shoulder from where he’s sitting behind him.

It’s a rare outing for the five of them, not because Gerry won’t spend time with them, he’s oddly attached to Aaron and will babysit Seb whenever asked because he’s actually brilliant with children. Robert had asked Aaron whether he thought that Gerry could talk to babies, he was that good at anticipating Seb’s needs. No, they’ve hit the phase of Liv’s teenage years where she’s no longer pressing their boundaries, but rather, she just generally doesn’t want to be around them. They’re old and married and Aaron worries enough that Liv doesn’t talk to him. He wasn’t above pulling that card and offering Liv a bit of cash for shopping in the lanes if she came. She wants a new jacket to go over all her slogan tees and so Robert told her if she saw a good one here, he’d get it for her. Aaron had tried to stop him, but as he rightly pointed out, it got her in the car.

Thing is, once she’s spending time with them, she loves it. She’s already got her arm out the window as Aaron tries to find a parking spot. Pointing one out, Aaron flips his indicator and squeezes in.

“Right! Everybody out!” He calls. Gerry grabs Seb out of his seat and slides after Robert, who is getting the pram out the boot as Liv puts on her shades. Aaron locks the car and gestures for Liv to not stand in the road and not in front of oncoming traffic and she just rolls her eyes at him before she cuddles up to his side. Gerry bounces Seb a few times, getting a giggle and a laugh out of him before Robert takes him and puts him in the pram.

Gerry self-assigns as the baggage handler, Aaron worries sometimes that he feels he has to as some sort of contribution, but anytime he tries to stop it, Gerry just looks more upset than if Aaron had let him.

“You sorted, Gerry?” He asks as he hooks his arm around Liv’s neck and guides her towards the beach. “What about you, kiddo?”

He tickles Seb’s cheek and he screws his face up and smiles.

“Rob?”

“You’re a bad flight attendant. No nuts?” Robert grins and Aaron raises his eyebrows, I’ve got nuts, and they laugh at their own stupid joke.

“No ice cream for you then.” Aaron pretends to ignore him as he and Liv head the troop towards the sand.

***

They situate themselves at the midpoint of the beach where you can still rent deck chairs. Liv cracks on about Robert’s back, but it’s been twingeing since the accident and Aaron doesn’t want to take any chances. 

Liv lays out her favourite towel, her portable phone charger and proceeds to instastory most of it. Aaron sighs and grabs out a sippy cup for Seb as he splats his hands on the sand as Robert has put him on the edge of his towel. He’s mostly clean but still able to touch things. Every now and then he says, ‘Dada’ to get Robert’s attention, but he’s mostly just moving the sand around.

“How much do you think he’s about to eat?” Gerry asks them and Robert looks like he’s about to have a breakdown.

Aaron looks at him very seriously, “None, Gerry.”

He gets on message and rubs suncream into his legs and splodges a bit on Seb for Robert to rub in. Seb liked the splodge, he doesn’t like the rubbing and he looks like he’s about to cry when Aaron busts out a rubber starfish from the bag. It’s big and orange and he snuck it in when Robert wasn’t looking.

“What is that?” He looks at it and touches one of its surprisingly bendy legs.

“Found it on Amazon. Thought Seb might like it.”

He does. He slaps it on the sand and stops putting his dirty hands anywhere near his mouth and Aaron gets a kiss and husband points.

Robert digs out his phone and starts taking pictures. The beauty of Seb being that little bit older, he’s 20 months now, is that he mostly knows his own name, so when Robert calls him, he presents his orange starfish with pride for the photo.

“I wanna take a picture of him in the water,” Robert tells him.

“Alright,” He dusts himself off and scoops Seb up in one swoop and he squeals as he flies through the air, Superman style, Aaron’s hands holding him so.

Liv busts out a sketchpad from her backpack and it makes Aaron smile as Gerry natters onto her as they’re walking down to the ocean.

“How do ya wanna do this, bud?” He asks Seb as he turns him up so that he’s seated, Aaron holding him with one arm against his stomach, Seb’s back to his belly. He’s quiet, so Aaron wonders if he’s got a bit of sensory overload and whether they should have put a hat on him right away. Aaron kicks off his Havanas and goes to trade Seb for Robert’s phone.

Robert shakes his head, “I’m taking the picture.”

“Don’t you want to…?” It’s Seb’s first time in the water.

It’s a testament to how they’ve worked on things that Robert didn’t realise. He laughs at himself and lifts his son up from Aaron and gives him his phone.

Aaron turns it into a video and Robert kicks off his Birkenstocks – an out of spite choice with his rolled up Dad chinos because Aaron said they looked like ‘Jesus sandals’.

The day is hot enough that the water is fine and Robert gets to where it’s lapping his feet before he puts Seb down to stand. Aaron backs away and Seb looks down and then up before he does an excited baby dance, tugging on Robert’s hands as he holds him up by them.

“That good, son?” Robert laughs and his smile is as bright as the sun. Seb pulls away from one of Robert’s hands to touch the water. “Yeah, that’s the ocean.”

Robert lets him go and he stands a bit before he falls and touches the thicker wet sand. He squishes it excitedly, “Aah’n.”

Rs don’t really exist for Seb or most letters, so their names are the approximation he can make: Aah’n, Lee, Gee.

“The sea, Seb. Do ya like it?”

Seb manages to get himself up and toddles to Aaron and grabs hold of his legs like a lifeline when he gets there. Aaron laughs and rubs his blonde hair.

“Aah’n.” Seb starts grabbing at his legs and he’s forced to hand Robert the phone and he turns it onto Aaron as he picks Seb up. Unlike Robert, he’s wearing longer shorts so he takes Seb further in, ignoring that his clothes get wet, they have spares, and lets the waves lap over his legs. In the end, he kneels behind Seb, his shorts a thick mess as he hugs his arms around Seb’s little baby tummy and watches as he slaps the water.

Seb makes the mistake of putting his hand in his mouth and the salt makes him screw up his face.

“Oh yeah, bud, we’ve all done that.” Aaron picks him up and nods to Robert, “Time for a drink and a hat for this guy.”

Robert wasn’t even filming them, just standing on the beach smiling with his arms folded. Aaron’s got Seb back to his front again and Robert kisses Seb’s forehead before he kisses Aaron’s lips.

“You’re both cute.”

Aaron dives in for another kiss and Seb grabs at Robert’s shirt when they part, trying to hold his dad in closer. Aaron bounces him and he lets go to hold Aaron’s arm.

“So, the water? Yay or nay?” He noses Seb’s hair and he shakes his head no. “No, you don’t like the water? Why’s that? Too wet?”

He shakes his head yes. Aaron doubts he actually knows what he thinks about the water, but he puts Seb back on Robert’s towel and he picks up his starfish with glee and Aaron thinks that’s good too.

***

Aaron is dozing lightly, Robert’s reading a book when he feels what must be a cannonball land on his stomach.

“Oh god.” He definitely can feel his breakfast.

“Seb!” Robert calls.

Seb, when Aaron opens his eyes, is trying to climb on him. Aaron helps him up and puts him on his chest. He’s expecting a game of some sort, but Seb just lies down like he wants to sleep like Aaron was. Aaron adjusts his hat to cover his neck and Robert hands him a very light baby blanket to cover Seb’s legs - thankfully there is a bit of a breeze now - and he’s protected enough to stay where he is.

Aaron considers himself to have a good lot in life. He’s got a sister, a house, well, a home, friends, family, Robert. The only unexpected factor was Seb. There was a time when Aaron couldn’t bear the idea of him. A son that Aaron would never share with Robert, a glaring offence that mocked him in his nightmares. But time passed and he learned that children are not their parents. So, he worked on himself, opened himself up to this tiny boy who had a father struggling to give him some semblance of a life. Seb is Robert is so many ways, especially now he’s developing his own personality. He pushes clothes away that he doesn’t like the feel of – a Robert trait of course. The ‘will eat most things and with a gusto’? That’s a learned behaviour and that’s all Aaron. He isn’t Seb’s father, but he has imprinted on this little guy just as much as he has on Aaron.

He pulls Seb up so that he’s high on his chest, his head naturally tucking into Aaron’s neck to hide from the sun. Aaron strokes his back and just feels the natural swell of love he has for him. Seb is soft and brilliant and Aaron can’t wait to see who he’s going to be. Will this day out mean that Seb goes on to save the starfish? Aaron gets to see a person become a person and that’s beautiful.

“Liv and Gerry are gonna go shopping, you wanna come or try and find an ice cream place?” Robert brushes back his hair and Aaron opens his eyes.

“Ice cream?”

“Yeah, we’ll meet up with them in an hour or so, I wanna get Seb out the heat for now, he’s already tired.” Robert doesn’t attempt to take Seb away, so Aaron sits up with him and notes how he doesn’t wake up but wriggles in his sleep.

They pack up, or the others do and Aaron holds Seb as he tightens his grip on Aaron’s tee. When it comes to putting Seb in the pram, Aaron shakes his head and keeps holding him.

“You push, I’ll walk.”

Robert smiles. He does it sometimes, gets Aaron to push the empty pram while he enjoys the soft baby smell and cuddles Seb clings for.

Aaron supposes that’s the point. He didn’t need to welcome Seb into his life, he did it for Robert, but when it comes down to it, he found another person in his life to give love to. And he does. He loves every inch of him because that was the choice he made.

“You’ve got a case of the loves,” Robert tells him knowingly. It’s something they made up for Seb. He has all different kinds of love in his life, ‘the loves’, and they ask him if he’s feeling ‘the loves’.

“No.” Aaron refutes, but Robert wraps his arm around Aaron’s waist as he pushes the pram with one arm.

“It’s okay, I do too.”

Okay, maybe a little bit.

Chapter Text

Aaron had always hated the concept of soulmates. One person you’re destined to be tied to despite rhyme or reason before you ever know each other’s names? No. He was not a fan.

It wasn’t to say he didn’t know his soulmate. He sees him in his dreams. The first few he had in his teens were awful. They were fraught with pain, blood and loneliness that Aaron knew just as well as painted on his own fists and inside his own heart because he didn’t want his soulmate to be a boy. He wanted to be normal. He doesn’t see more than a flash of gold, freckled shoulders and bruises on his ribs, but he knows he’s Aaron’s. And that scares him. And excites him. And he hates himself for that.

He gets older and the flashes get easier; it’s never a face, never a name, but he learns to put it aside and accept that being gay isn’t a hanging offence anymore. He doesn’t have to punish himself for that. Or for what happens to Jackson. How he sighs with relief because he doesn’t have freckles on his back or green-blue eyes that shine in the sun. His guilt cuts into his skin deeper than any blade and that’s why he keeps trying. Jackson deserved to be loved, and Aaron is promised to someone else. In the end, he likes to think that Jackson didn’t have a soulmate. He never mentioned him, and if he does, he’ll get to see him soon in the afterlife. They say that soulmate love transcends it all. Maybe he’s already been reborn to meet his other half.

They’re lies that get him to stop cutting and he supposes that’s something.

Aaron meets Robert in the autumn of 2014, and they strip each other’s bodies in the dark and Aaron tries to ignore the gold in his hair despite the gloom. His soulmate’s hair glows. His eyes are kind. Robert is a dick and Aaron enjoys taking what he can from him. Made up all pretty, he’s nothing when he gets on his knees.

His dreams shift. He sees hands cupping, pulling, clasping, guiding; beautiful metal on the fourth finger of his left hand. Robert’s ring doesn’t look anything like that. Aaron shoves it away. What would his soulmate say as he prostrates himself for another man? A married man? Would he understand how Aaron spent his time while he waited? Would Robert even let him go? Aaron thinks he is just spiteful enough to tell Aaron’s soulmate all the dirty things he’s done to him.

Aaron knows he got confused when he told Robert he loved him. He mistook Robert’s kindness and thought he saw the man from his dreams. The one that holds him and writes patterns on his skin. Robert isn’t him and he cries harder than when Jackson passed for that truth. Robert tries to drag him back, but Aaron holds steadfast. His loyalty is to the man he’s born for. It’s what he holds onto when Robert cries tears of his own because he loves Aaron. They’re not meant to be and it’s tearing them apart.

Aaron doesn’t dream when his father comes back. He’s so alone without his soulmate, there’s nothing to keep him here, so he brings back the knife. He wonders if his soulmate can tell the difference in him. Robert is with him when he wakes up and Aaron turns away from him. He can wait all he wants. Aaron won’t give him a thing. Except he does. He figures Robert won’t break, Aaron will tell him and it will be history when Robert meets his soulmate.

When Robert doesn’t leave, Aaron begins to wonder if Robert is like Jackson. No soulmate to tie him and that’s why he clings so hard to Aaron. He thinks he loves Aaron so intensely because he has nothing to tell him that more is out there. There is no other half of him crying out for completion. Aaron’s dreams shift again and he sees a house – a home – and there’s laughter in the background. His own hands look older and his soulmate has streaks of grey in his hair.

Aaron learns to hate more intensely that his soulmate doesn’t appear. He’s fallen in love with Robert a hundred times and he still can’t find it in himself to tell him he’s promised to another. Robert brings his ex’s sister into town and Aaron worries that she might be his soulmate. It’s stupid because he knows he’s for someone else, but he doesn’t want Robert to leave.

It isn’t until they crash into the water that Aaron lets it out. He doesn’t want his soulmate. He doesn’t want a promise or a gesture, a stupid man who he’s never met. He wants Robert. He panics that Robert will die if he stays and Aaron never gives a second thought to the man of his dreams. He never did a thing for Aaron. Robert was always there.

He wakes up groggy and Robert is waiting for him, asleep in his chair. He looks at his hands, all taped up with medical crap and he notices it. A ring.

Aaron’s heart pounds.

He asks Robert how he got it. Robert looks at him with genuine upset when he thinks Aaron might say no. Maybe he realises Aaron has a soulmate and he thinks his gesture is futile.

Aaron proposes because he’s made his choice. He slips the ring on Robert’s finger and kisses him back when he brushes his hand over Aaron’s pond curled fluff.

Robert’s hand is freckled, and with a beautiful ring, his hair is bright gold in the glare of the hospital lights. Aaron stops breathing when he realises the freckles he’s seen a hundred times in his dreams are Robert’s. Of course, they are.

Aaron laughs and Robert looks at him funny when he asks, “Did you ever dream about me?”

Robert looks down, “All the time.”

“What? You knew. You knew it was me?” Aaron tries to catch Robert’s eye.

“I didn’t want to, at first, then…then I wanted you to choose me.”

Choose.

“I didn’t know it until just now.” Aaron admits, “I was gonna pick ya over my soulmate. Whoever he was, I didn’t care, I wanted you.”

Robert looks up, his eyes watery.

“And I realised your ring was your ring.”

“You really didn’t know it was me?” He laughs incredulously, “You must have been really obtuse.”

“What? When did you know then?” Aaron feels defensive, not overly so, but that his intelligence had been questioned.

Robert hesitates, but he says it anyway, “Always, I think, but clearly? When you thought I didn’t want you…”

Because of what happened to me.

“I knew then I wouldn’t ever want anyone else. Every dream after that was you. You look great as an old man, by the way.”

***

Yeah, so a soulmate isn’t someone chosen for you at birth by an unknowable force. The dreams are just a helping hand. If you need that sort of thing.

On their 25th wedding anniversary, Robert still drags out Aaron’s obliviousness for his big speech, but as a gift to him, he promises he will retire it for the rest of their lives.

“Honestly, I’m glad. I know that my husband chose me. Not because Fate did, but because he didn’t care he had a soulmate. He didn’t care he was going to break someone’s heart for eternity. He loves me more than all of that.”

Robert raises his glass to Aaron, “My deepest and truest love, I hope that in every lifetime from now I show you the same faith you showed me.”

Aaron ducks his head, bright red as their kids clap and whoop aggressively as Robert drinks to him.

He stands and he takes his own glass, “I chose you, but you did something too. You waited. You let it be my choice. You had every right to feel entitled to me; I was what Fate owed you, but I know in my heart that you would have let me go. Don’t. Don’t ever let me go, Robert. I don’t want to be anyone else’s.”

They kiss, more cheering, and Aaron sees the final clasp of their hands from his dreams; the grey in Robert’s hair, the wrinkled softness of his own hand, and he knows he’s made it.

Chapter Text

‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ said that Duke guy who fancied the lady dressed like a man. Or at least that’s what Robert remembers from his high school English lessons and his one dalliance with Shakespeare. He was talking about the natural phenomenon where people can hear music; patchy, often out of tone and generally very badly until they meet their soulmate. Then it becomes clear as a bell. Orsino had already met his love, but so full was he in his own lament, he didn’t even realise it.

Robert does not have that same courtesy.

He’s standing in the village he left so long ago because one day when he was 14, he was standing in the Woolpack when he heard it. Clear as day: ding. Followed by another and another. Music. He turned around and there was no one playing. He asked if anyone could hear it, but everyone shook their heads. He went back to his room and he played his CDs. Not one of them skipped, he heard the flow of sound so entirely, it hurt his ears to hear it in full. It was too crisp, too clean. He turned it off and shoved it under his bed.

Robert tried to find his soulmate, but he realised that he might not like what he found. So, instead, he left. He ran as far as he could go and he never thinks about the soft ding, ding, ding he heard and ran towards. How each note began to fill a void inside him. That for one second he wanted what was being offered to him.

He sighs and kicks up dirt that is probably the same as when he was here last. Everything is so small and contained here. There are no possibilities, but Chrissie wanted to come, so he brought her.

She has a beautiful ring on her finger and she hears music in patchy waves, clearer than most because she has a child. Her love for him comes from her very soul, so when she hummed his lullabies as a baby, she was rarely out of tune. Robert lies to her when she sings in the shower and she drops a note because it screeches through his ears like nails on a chalkboard.

He isn’t proud of it, but his loyalty to her extends to not telling her that he spends his nights searching for his soulmate in other beds, even though he knows he won’t find them. He knows he won’t be complete without his person, so he tries to fill himself up with as many as he can until he feels at least half full. There was one woman, Karen. Her soulmate passed away and looked at him sadly when she realised that Robert could hear her playing a song she and her husband used to love.

“What are you doing, Robert?” She asked. “You don’t love Chrissie. You love your soulmate.”

Robert scoffed, “Maybe I don’t love Chrissie how I should, but I refuse to be tied to an idea.”

Karen looked at him, “I don’t mean you will love your soulmate, Robert. You already do. It’s why you do this to Chrissie.”

His heart stopped, “I heard three notes of music when I was 14,” it fell out of him like nothing else ever has, “that isn’t love.”

“Isn’t it? Your heart has been empty ever since.”

He doesn’t see her again but she sends him an e-mail: Robert, find her. Give her a chance to finish the song.

Her. That’s what he fears. She is he and he can’t bring himself to say the words. He forgets about Karen and carries on. Men question it less and generally don’t question Robert at all.

***

Robert finds the closest thing to solace in Aaron’s arms. With him, there’s nothing but silence. He doesn’t hum or sing or play songs; he’s closed off and glaring until Robert gets him naked and the music he sings is a chorus of grunts and moans that Robert holds inside himself tighter than anything he has in a long time.

Between him and Chrissie, Robert feels as full as he ever has and he likes it that way.

Of course, it’s the simplest of things that make it all come crashing down.

***

Chrissie is planning a big party for her birthday and her band has cancelled and there’s no one to fill in.

“Do you know how hard it is to get good musicians? There are going to be people with soulmates here, they’re going to hate it.” She’s about to break down in the pub when Chas butts in.

“Aaron plays.”

Robert turns around to her sharply, “What?”

“Aaron. He plays the piano, never had a bad word said about him by anyone.” She shrugs, but her voice is full of pride, “I might have to twist his arm, he isn’t keen on playing in front of people, but he’d do it to help out a mate.”

Robert has seen every inch of his body, he’s more than his mate, but this has blindsided him. He had no idea Aaron could play.

Chrissie looks at Chas, hopefully, “Would you ask him, please? He’d be doing us a right favour.”

Chrissie gets a piano installed before Aaron has even said yes. Robert meets him that night, Aaron doesn’t meet his eye, but he agrees. Robert is screaming inside. He plays well enough that no one questions him. Does that mean he has a soulmate? Had a soulmate? He knows that Aaron has lost a love before. Part of him wonders how Aaron even knows how to play. It’s not at all a part of his character. A dirty little grease monkey under the hood of a car in a suit playing sheets of music that soulmates spend their whole lives waiting to listen to? He can’t imagine it.

Aaron ignores him when he asks, so Robert is just left with an empty space that Aaron used to fill.

***

The time of the party arrives and Aaron shows up in a black suit and black bowtie. He looks uncomfortable but Chrissie greets him happily.

“Aaron!” She almost goes to hug him but his face is somewhat like thunder, so she just shows him to the piano and leaves him with.

Robert sits next to him on the stool, “Don’t you need sheets?”

He shakes his head, “No, I play from memory.”

Robert waits, but Aaron doesn’t move. He has to leave him to it to get ready for the party when Robert realises he’s excited. He might get to hear music that won’t flay his eardrums or that he’ll have to pretend it doesn’t.

People are milling about and Chrissie asks Aaron if he can start, so he rolls his shoulders and strokes the keys. Still, no sound comes out.

His heart drops that maybe he will never hear what Aaron creates. Maybe he’s deaf to what this man makes, but he starts playing. It’s classical, Chopin, he thinks, a request from Chrissie obviously, but Robert’s world is turned upside down. It’s clear, so clear, like a bell on a dewy morning before anyone has woken up. It’s the softest sounds he’s ever heard, his heart is filled up with each note. He doesn’t understand. He makes his excuses and pushes his way outside. He folds himself up, under a tree, sitting on the grass.

Ding, ding, ding. He hears it in his mind and he knows it’s the same.

Aaron is a rousing success. People ask for his number for their parties and he denies them all. They ask him why. Does his soulmate get jealous that he shares his beauty with others? He thinks Mrs Lobemé has a thing for Aaron.

“I don’t have a soulmate.” Aaron sounds so sure and Robert can almost feel himself reaching for Aaron. “I just learned to play.”

They push and Robert gets Aaron out of there with an arm around his shoulders, telling Chrissie he’ll drive Aaron home.

“You ain’t gonna ask me?” Aaron confronts him in the car.

Robert keeps his eyes on the road, “What? About your soulmate?”

He assumes Aaron nods and he just shrugs, “Do you?”

Aaron is silent again, but Robert can fill up the space with the music he knows Aaron plays.

They get to the pub and Robert shifts, “Do you have a piano?”

Aaron looks at him, confused, “I have a keyboard, why?”

“Show it to me.”

It’s old and battered and Robert traces his finger along the edge of it. It makes so much sense to him now. Aaron turns it on, puts it on his lap as he sits on his bed as he starts to play another piece. It’s sad and lonely and Robert realises that Aaron is playing his sadness for him. The things he doesn’t say when he’s silent. He thinks Robert can’t hear them, or if he does, he doesn’t understand their fullness.

“You were only a kid when you heard it, right?” Robert scoots over so that he can touch the keys with Aaron.

“Heard what?”

“You were learning.” Robert reaches out. Ding, ding, ding is how it starts, it’s all he knows. “I was in the pub and you must have been playing upstairs.”

Aaron slowly comes to the realisation as he carries on Robert’s tune for the first variation, “It was my first lesson.”

“I heard it all so clearly. Mum thought I was a child prodigy or summat.”

Robert can almost feel Aaron’s happiness swell between them.

“But it was you.”

He finally feels how unfinished he was at this moment. A piece of music that never ended. He had his crescendos, his diminuendos, his interludes, but nothing that completed him. Aaron completes him, and he is the piece of music Aaron has been playing his whole life.

Now with music between them, Aaron pushes everything out so that only he exists inside Robert’s heart. He puts his keyboard down and Robert draws him in for a kiss.

Aaron pulls away and asks him, “Do you play?”

Robert shakes his head, “No. Teach me.”

Chapter Text

Aaron’s still sweaty from all the sex when he takes his watch off and puts it on his bedside table, the band starting to chafe, and Robert rolls him back over with a ‘hey’.

He accepts Robert’s kiss and the laugh into the kiss as he smiles and Aaron hears the automated sound of a camera click.

“What the–” Aaron tries to grab Robert’s phone and ends up covering his torso, but barely reaching the end of his gangly arms. “Robert.”

Robert is biting his lip, happiness radiating out of him and Aaron doesn’t have the heart to deny him that.

“That’s going on Facebook.” Robert tells him conversationally, but Aaron ignores him, he’s got keener interests in the flatness of Robert’s belly, the coarser hair just below his belly button. He isn’t above blowing a raspberry on Robert so he does, and Robert drops his phone and grabs at Aaron to take his revenge.

 

 

Aaron picks up his trousers a bit later, when Robert’s gone home to see to things, and digs out his own phone. He notices that it has blown up with notifications.

Swiping it open, Aaron opens the app and it’s the very top of his feed: him and Robert smiling more than kissing, their naked shoulders in view, but also both of them with a heavy flush high on their chests. It doesn’t take a genius to know why. The post itself is simply #thathappened, he’s also been tagged and everything.

At first, Aaron wants to rail that it’s too soon, but he looks at his own face, the unedited, unadulterated joy and he sighs. Whether it’s now, tomorrow, or a week from now, he and Robert are together. He scrolls to get to his settings and changes his status, barely used to being single to ‘– in a relationship with Robert Sugden’.

Alex unfriends him, which is fair, Robert replies with 5 heart eyes emojis and a blowing kiss emoji and presses him up against the wall by his front door when he comes back over that evening. Everything and everyone else can wait. It’s #happeningagain.

Chapter Text

Aaron wonders how standing front of a man he’s known for years, loved nearly as long, is so entirely nerve-wracking. He knows he looks awkward, shifting from foot to foot and Robert is offering him his soft understanding smile, but that isn’t going to cut it. He doesn’t want Robert to understand like Aaron is incapable of telling him how he feels.

His eyes catch on a drip of water that’s sliding down the hollow of Robert’s throat and reminds him of why they’re here. He has said things, deep things. Things like ‘I love you’ while the rain lashed down on them like it was a perfect personification of Aaron’s turmoil. Choose me, the wind almost howled, I choose you, the silence had soothed.

It bolsters him, steadies his hands as he grasps the edges of Robert’s jacket, slipping it off the curves of his shoulders with barely a hairsbreadth of space between it and him. It drops like an insolent thud to their quiet, but Robert doesn’t seem to mind it. He’s tilting his head to the side, patiently waiting for Aaron to make heads or tails of him, and it puts fire in Aaron’s heart to make sure Robert never doubts him ever again.

“Why are you doing this?” Robert threw back at him.

“I love you.”

Robert’s shirt, purple with a speckled design, takes more concentration, both to make his fingers work deftly on the delicate size of the buttons, but also because Robert is leaning into him, nose pressed against his temple, his breath light in anticipation against his cheek.

“Pack it in,” Aaron tells him as his index finger traces down the gap between the fabric when he gets four buttons down.

“I’m not doing anything.” Robert feigns innocence, but his lips bow into a conspiratorial smile and Aaron can’t help but taste it, quick and light before he returns to his task.

“Sure you’re not.” Aaron tucks his hips under and they bump against Robert’s and they both laugh. There’s no hiding the desire here, there’s just a quest to how they stoke it.

Aaron gets the last button through the hole and he leaves it to hang limply with the damp as his fingers press over the ridges of Robert’s stomach, where he’s softer near his belly button, harder where his abs are raised, low and towards his groin.

It’s easy to kiss Robert’s scar. If Aaron leans down he’s the perfect height for it, but he doesn’t want that weight between them. He chooses instead to spread Robert’s shirt away from him and suck heavily on the skin of Robert’s chest, high up over his heart. Aaron can feel Robert curl his fingers into his hair, the sound of his hiss reaches his ear before it ever leaves Robert’s mouth as if it slips from somewhere lower than his voice. Like Aaron is dragging out parts of him unknown.

His fingers work open Robert’s belt as his teeth graze upwards towards his shoulder, biting on Robert’s collarbone before purpling the skin there as the leather slaps satisfyingly out of its loops. With it, Robert sighs his name softly and his hands let go of Aaron’s hair and slope down onto his back, resting gently for balance.

The pop of the button on Robert’s jeans leaves them both a little tense. It’s not fear or expectation, but the first step of more. Aaron leans back enough that he can see Robert’s face. His eyes are closed until he realises Aaron has stopped and he opens them to look at him. They’re such familiar blue-green, Aaron can’t help but reach up and graze his thumb under Robert’s eye. It pulls another smile out of him and Aaron focuses on that as his hands unzip the denim. For the first time, Robert catches his wrist as he’s about to graze the waistband of his boxers.

This is his out.

“Don’t you get it?” It’s automatic, like the very depths of his subconscious can’t understand why Robert would turn him away or let him go.

Aaron turns his wrist over and uses that hand to lace his fingers with Robert’s.

“I love you, Robert.” It’s awkward as Aaron tries to slide Robert’s jeans down on one side with one hand, but the gesture makes its impact, “I love you.”

Let me show you.

Chapter Text

Robert is sitting at the end of Aaron’s bed after a long day. He’s fobbed Seb off on Victoria, which he feels terrible about because he was fussy all morning and well into the afternoon, but he needs this. He needs contact with another human being who isn’t interested in baby bottles, bibs and diapers. He hates how that makes him sound, but Aaron is pottering around in front of him and it’s all suddenly worth it.

“Hey, c’mere.” He tries to grab Aaron as he passes, but he swings his hips away and carries on putting things in drawers. “When did you get so house proud?”

“I do tidy up, y’know.” Aaron is grumbling, but he comes back to stand between Robert’s knees when he spreads them a bit wider for him.

“Oh yeah, not a speck of dust.” He’s rolling his lips over his teeth, trying not to laugh, and Aaron pulls gently on the back of his hair and raises his head like ‘oh yeah’ as he steps in a bit more.

“Yeah, I’m well good.”

Aaron’s smiling at him, hands on his neck, thumbs up under his jaw and Robert just feels all the tension slide out of him. He cups his hands around the backs of Aaron’s knees and guides him to straddle his lap before he leans his head down on Aaron’s chest under his chin.

“This is nice,” Robert murmurs and Aaron strokes his biceps and squeezes his shoulders.

“This is nice too.” Aaron’s long sleeve red jumper that Robert is rubbing his forehead on. It’s new and tight in all the right places, so Robert feels it trapping his hands when he slips them under it and up towards Aaron’s shoulders.

A kiss is pressed against his hair, “Don’t you have to get back?”

He hums, but his hands travel around to Aaron’s front and rest flatly on his stomach, “I’ve got time.”

Aaron tightens his thighs perceptibly around Robert’s hips before he leans back and tilts Robert’s head up. Robert pushes at his jumper and gets it up under his armpits but is blocked when Aaron won’t let go of his face.

“What?” He asks.

Aaron shakes his head like it’s nothing before he swoops down and kisses Robert’s lips. He’s pushing hard and pulling at Robert’s shirt at the back, untucking it from his belted jeans and Robert can’t help but reply in kind, forcing Aaron to let him go after a moment to get the top off him and to place a kiss low on his throat before he’s trapped again by Aaron’s hands. This time Aaron’s kiss steals his breath and he relishes it as Aaron works him over with his tongue, slipping inside his mouth and encouraging him to play.

The need for air parts them and Robert stares at Aaron’s mouth, slick and shiny, and then he pulls Aaron’s belt off. Aaron licks his lips like he’s about to lean in again, but Robert leans back. Aaron retaliates by squirming on his lap, only Robert has already masterminded popping his trousers open so that he can slip his hands down the back and hold a handful of Aaron’s bum in each hand.

Aaron rides down on his lap and Robert barely grabs hold of him before he’s moaning softly.

“I missed you like this,” he admits, trying to pull Aaron’s trousers as far apart as he can, shoving his boxers down the measly amount he can as Aaron wrestles with his shirt buttons. It’s true though. He misses the simplicity of Aaron wanton in his arms. The times where he would just sit on Robert’s lap without a word and wait for Robert to give him what he wanted.

Aaron gets his shirt open enough that he can tuck his face into Robert’s shoulder and bite harshly and pull at the collar still, Robert sighs hotly as he digs his fingers into Aaron’s naked back, hands gliding down to his waist to lift him enough to help him stand.

He reaches for Aaron, only to get his hand slapped away. No, this is the Aaron he misses the most. The one who keeps Robert’s eyes on his face, trapped by his eyes, magnetic and blue, while he takes his clothes off. This Aaron knows what he wants and will take it. Robert doesn’t look to see where his clothes go, but Aaron sits back on his lap and when his hands touch the curves of his thighs, his hips and up to his waist, there’s nothing but skin.

“Well then, what ya waiting for?” Aaron baits him.

Not one thing, not anymore.

Chapter Text

Aaron can feel the sweat cooling on his skin where Robert has played his body to the edge, only to hold him back before letting him fall. He’s on his back, his legs on Robert’s shoulders as Robert lifts his head from Aaron’s groin, lips red and puffy.

“You’re a fucker, you know that, right?” Aaron weakly protests as Robert kisses the inside of his thigh.

His balls were tingling, he was so fucking close, and Robert just pulled off to let him stew in it.

“I’m not finished with you yet.” Robert eases his legs down and sits back on his own ankles, his chest flushed as red as his dick.

Aaron leans up to return the favour, ready to watch Robert cry out limply when his orgasm is denied, but Robert catches his wrist and holds it before turning it to the side.

He wants Aaron to turn over.

“Come on,” Robert teases, and Aaron is sceptical. He’s dribbling on his own stomach with how much he wants to come and both of them look down at him in acknowledgement of that. “Aaron, I want to.”

Slowly, he turns over, hands under shoulders, knees under hips, but Robert knocks him down to his front and spreads his legs either side of himself. Aaron settles with his legs wider rather than closer and gives an experimental hump on the bed. He gets a slap on his thigh for it, so he stops, folding his arms under his head as he waits.

Aaron expects his first kiss on his arse, but Robert kisses him high up on his back, tongue swiping at the sweaty skin for a taste. Slowly, he makes his way down Aaron’s spine and Aaron lets the soft touches warm him back up after Robert leaving him out in the cold. He also doesn’t expect Robert forcing his hand under him and fondling his cock with a tight fist to make sure he’s still into what they’re doing.

“Good, I want you to enjoy this,” Robert whispers against his ear as he rubs the underside of his foreskin. Aaron murmurs for him to fuck off, but it makes no impact.

His arse is spread and Robert spits down on him and he can’t help it, “Jesus, fuck.”

A finger pushes the saliva around lightly but is taken away right after.

Robert breathes on him before he touches him, and Aaron tenses and relaxes his shoulders as he tries to wait Robert out.

“Easy, Aaron.”

“Bloody do something then.” He grouses, but he’s fragile, he’s so close, he can almost taste the zing of pleasure inside him, but he can’t get there, not without Robert.

It’s a partial lick, barely wetting the skin. He moans again.

“No?” Robert asks.

Aaron grabs back at Robert’s wrist and just holds it.

“Alright, I’ve got you,” Robert assures him as he spreads his tongue over as much of Aaron as he can.

His voice is guttural and low, and he barely recognises himself as Robert takes another pass at him. Aaron curls his toes and flexes them to distract his focus, but Robert sucks gently on his skin and he seizes and rolls in response.

Robert leans away from him to say one word, “Down.”

Aaron shifts, but stays on his belly. He keeps his hips still and Robert licks him again, delving a little bit closer to breaching him. His other hand goes to Robert’s other wrist as he bites the duvet up into his mouth before letting it go. Still, it doesn’t hold the little choked sounds that just seem to arrive with every swipe of Robert’s tongue on him. Aaron gets himself around that the longer Robert does it, finds it easier to cope, and then Robert changes tactic and drags his teeth across his rim before he pushes his tongue inside. Aaron’s body rolls and his knees dig into the bed a little as his cock pulls satisfyingly against cotton.

Then there’s empty space.

“Robert.” It’s a statement and an open-ended plea. Nothing.

“Please.”

Aaron tries to tug on Robert’s wrists, but he won’t come.

“More, please.”

Robert shakes him off and grabs his arse roughly before shoving his tongue as far as Aaron will accept him. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s tight and Aaron cries out as he forces his hips to stay down as his dick pulses thickly where it’s trapped against him.

“Oh god,” is all that will come out of him other than the wet sighs and moans that live in his throat before Robert shunts them out with the pushes of his tongue and the bites of his teeth when he slips away. He bites Aaron on his bum properly before he slips a finger inside. He’s pushing down as he rubs and it’s all that it takes to spark Aaron’s orgasm. Aaron grabs fistfuls of the duvet as his body breaks apart, his stomach feeling the wet heat as he soaks the cover with his come. It’s more than anything he’s felt in a long time, his body wracking with pleasure that doesn’t seem to end, Robert still pressing inside him and his thumb rubbing against his rim and then down behind his balls.

“Jesus, Robert—” He thinks it’s done, it’s over, but Robert’s fingers draw out cold shudders from Aaron’s body as he screws his eyes shut and lets the feelings drag him under.

Aaron comes back to himself with Robert lying next to him, fingers curling over his own cock, focus downward on reaching his own end. He doesn’t touch Robert’s dick, instead, he scoots over, wet patch be damned and licks at Robert’s neck. He lets his fingers wander over his chest, tweaking at his nipple, skating down the dips of his belly and Robert comes as Aaron’s fingers dance in the hair above his cock. Aaron revels when he gets Robert’s release dripped onto his knuckles when he shakes it down onto him and his own stomach. It’s just as good to him as his own mind-altering experience.

Robert’s chest heaves with exertion and Aaron pecks him on the mouth, Robert half responding, half still with his pulsing pleasure. So, Aaron tucks himself up on Robert’s shoulder, hand coming over to lie on his chest and he lets the good sex hormones do their job and he falls asleep.

At some point, Robert wipes him with a flannel, which he’s grateful for, but he doesn’t wake properly until the next morning to a nice cup of tea and a shared toast breakfast.

“So, you were into it last night,” Aaron points out as he wolfs down a whole piece and a slurp of tea. His body is still a bit rung out if he’s honest.

Robert shrugs, “Into you, more like. I feel like I’ve got a lot to make up for.”

There’s a silence, but Aaron nicks another slice, “Yeah, well, stop me coming like that again, you’ll never have sex again.”

He understands what Robert meant, there’s so much between them that they’ve missed, that they think they remember with crystal clarity, but they can’t be sure unless they see it or hear it again and know that it’s true.

“I more than made up for it though, didn’t I?” Robert is smiling at him, a cross between smug and hopeful.

“It was alright.” He says, but the crinkles around his eyes give him away.

“Better try again tonight then, hadn’t I?”

Aaron shrugs, “Maybe I should try instead?”

Robert looks at him and bites into his piece of toast, “Looking forward to it.”

Chapter Text

After his tea and toast, Aaron’s day runs pretty normally. He shoves Liv out the door at 8 because she will inevitably go to the shop and be late otherwise, Gerry is left on the settee because Aaron has too much to do with him around, and Robert drives their two-person carpool to the portacabin.

“More sheet metal?” Robert asks as he hangs his and Aaron’s jackets up on the hooks, handing Aaron back a hi-vis.

“Mmm. Ugh, I wish I could just knock it off.” Aaron sighs and Robert comes up behind him, hooks his chin on Aaron’s shoulder.

“Need any help?”

Aaron thinks about it, “Nah, I should just crack on.”

Robert kisses his ear and pats his side, “If you change your mind.”

He realises very quickly he missed having a husband.

 

 

 

 

Robert cooks when they get home, Aaron washing up the dishes, and there’s blissful quiet in the house with none of the kids about. Any of them.

“Is this what being a grown-up is actually like?” Robert moans as he wriggles his shoulders and clicks something in his back.

“An old man, sure.” Aaron jabs, but he rubs a hand over Robert’s back as they lean by the sink. “Take a shower, it might ease it off.”

“Good idea, don’t start the film without me.”

Aaron gets a quick kiss pressed to his lips and Robert’s gone. They talked about watching God’s Own Country, but there was some dispute over it being ‘a gay film’. Robert hates that there is a genre of films that are called ‘gay films’ just because they like someone of the same sex. Aaron mostly ignores him, and if he doesn’t, he takes the piss about him being so up in arms, calls him his little keyboard warrior. It’s another one of those welcomed changes in their relationship since they got back together; how Robert doesn’t fight himself anymore.

Aaron potters up to their room and digs out some comfier bottoms. Robert has already laid his out on the bed, the nerd that he is, and Aaron just lays his down next to them like a weird ‘His & His’ flat lay. He blames Liv for him ever understanding what a flat lay is.

Robert is singing away to himself in the shower en-suite to their room, and Aaron can’t help but push the ajar door open and watch him scrub up, his back to Aaron with his head under the spray. One of Aaron’s secret pleasures is watching Robert from behind; the strong slope of his back, muscles twitching as he moves, to the generous curve of his arse that you never need to be side on to know is there. He’s just built to be naked in a lot of ways and it heats Aaron’s blood like nothing else.

He swipes his top over his head, dropping it on the closed basket next to him, yanks his trousers and pants down, socks pinging off in his hands before they join the shirt on the hamper.

Pulling the door open, Robert turns towards him, but Aaron stops him with a hand on his shoulder. Robert moves forward enough that he’s almost out of the spray and on the nobs so that Aaron can wet his hair before he moves back and carries on washing up. Aaron reaches out and touches where the water sluices down Robert’s spine, slows over the small of his back and runs down his bum. It’s tantalising.

They don’t have masses of room, but Aaron gets on his knees with little negotiation and parts Robert with his hands. The same water slips down his crack and Robert is trying to turn again but is held too firmly in Aaron’s grip.

“Aaron—”

“Fair’s fair.” He points out their discussion from this morning and kisses the divot above his rim, where Robert’s tailbone ends.

If Robert has any protests he doesn’t air them, just gives Aaron a breathy okay and drops his flannel with a wet slap.

Robert’s legs are little close together, so Aaron slides his hand between them and enjoys the little shake that Robert gives as he steps his feet apart. He rubs his fingers under Robert’s balls and gives his cock a few loose pulls from underneath to get him started, but mostly keeps his focus where he’s going to ruin Robert’s beautiful arse. It sits high in comparison to most, particularly now that Robert has taken to coming to the gym more than one a fortnight, and Robert’s trainer was very complimentary about Robert’s posterior chain, in fact. Less so when Aaron started grunting heavily with his PB deadlifts. Then he didn’t appreciate Robert’s focus on Aaron at all. Shame.

Aaron brushes his thumb over Robert’s rim, lightly then firmer, using the water to make it more comfortable before he covers it with his mouth and spits. He doesn’t move off, just licks hotly, and lets Robert’s hand come back to hold his head against him by his hair.

“Yes,” Robert encourages. Aaron does it again, but this time lets his spit drip and wash away. He curves his hands around Robert’s hip creases and presses his face against his bum and licks small stripes against him while dragging him back when he tries to pull off Aaron’s mouth. It’s all a tease, the tip of his tongue barely grazes Robert, and it’s an enticement that Robert can’t sustain, his moans increasing both in frequency and volume and he gives the head of his cock a little rub while Aaron leans back to wait until he’s finished.

Now, Robert is leaning forward the best he can, one hand on the shower wall and the other pulling lightly on the front of Aaron’s fringe when Aaron asks him:

“Ya need something?” His hand sliding up and down Robert’s thigh.

“No, I’m good.” It’s a tiny bit strangled, but Aaron knows he can do better.

He pushes on the small of Robert’s back, gets him to bend forward more, to tilt his arse further up, and he mouths wetly at the space behind Robert’s balls before sucking one and then the other into his mouth. Robert’s hand is back on his dick, his voice more choked now, so Aaron drags it off, places it on the inside of Robert’s thigh and leaves it there.

Aaron pushes against Robert’s hole with firmer strokes, flattening his tongue and curling it at the tip when he passes over. He slows to the point where he can push in a little each time, with Robert starting to rock against him, riding his tongue out. Aaron lets him have it for a second, pressing inside and twisting a little before drawing out. That is what brings out the deep groans from Robert, the ones that start in his chest, barely touch his throat and whine past his lips.

Sitting back once again, Aaron taps two fingers on Robert’s hole and watches him jump. The hand resting on Robert’s back holds him and Aaron stands up, grabbing the shower only lube before he bites Robert low on his shoulder. He slicks his fingers up, pressing one inside, and he does what Robert did, pulling on him by his hair, forcing him to stand up properly. Robert is forced to grab back onto Aaron’s hips to steady himself.

“I’m gonna fuck you,” Aaron tells him. Robert nods, breathing heavily, his cock bobbing wetly in the air. “Do you want me to?”

Robert nods and Aaron lets go of his hair that he’s been brushing back and pinches his arse cheek as he slips the second finger in.

“Ye—es…” Robert’s voice trembles and Aaron pushes in as deep as his knuckles will allow before sliding them out and thrusting them back in. Robert rolls up onto his toes to take it, holding his own thighs as he shakily moans his pleasure.

“Hands on the wall, yeah?”

Robert does as he’s told, Aaron slicks himself up and bends his knees a little as he lines his dick up to Robert’s slightly swollen rim. He drags down Robert down as he pushes up, Robert breathing out in one long groan as his body is breached by Aaron’s. Everything is so hot when Aaron is inside Robert. He doesn’t pull back any, just rolls his hips against Robert’s bum and feels the softness of his arse jiggling on his hipbones. He can’t help it either that he slaps his right hand over Robert’s left cheek to watch it wobble. He holds it tight in his hand, arm across his own body, almost to the point of pain as he starts to thrust slowly in and out of Robert’s tightness.

His own moans start to fill his ears as he thrusts, blending in with Robert’s as they rock together. He has enough sense to reach around and help Robert along with a loose fist for him to fuck into and he starts to push into it and back onto Aaron, spiking both of their pleasure with his counterpoint. Aaron wipes his mouth on Robert’s back, it doesn’t help any as the water keeps it and him wet, but Aaron lets it beat down on him as he rests his forehead on Robert’s back.

“Mmm, harder,” Robert breathes as he knocks Aaron’s hand out of the way of his cock, holding tight at the head, and Aaron uses his free hands to pin Robert’s hips with five-point bruises as he shoves harder inside him. Robert’s mouth just streams yes in a low tone until he keens loudly, his body stopping and tightening like a vice around Aaron’s cock as he spills into the shower water. Aaron moves gently, thrusting slowly to ease Robert through, and at the very tail end of Robert’s shakes, Aaron slides his hands up to Robert’s shoulders and holds him as he thrusts like he’s rutting inside Robert’s body to help prolong Robert’s orgasm.

Held by hands almost at his throat, Robert tells Aaron how much he wants it, how good it’ll be when he comes, how he still feels it, and Aaron loses it. His cock throbs, and he’s pouring inside of Robert, his mouth open in a silent O before he kisses Robert’s back with slack lips, something to try and ground him in reality as his hips still jerk, his whole body focused on this one source of pleasure as it drags out of his dick. Robert rubs reassuringly at his side and Aaron leans back with a cursory, “fuck.”

Robert moves to stand up as well, but Aaron holds him again, “Just—fuck—give me a second.”

“You okay?” Robert asks him as Aaron winces, pulling out and the water petering on his sensitive skin. Robert turns around and hugs his arms around Aaron, so he blindly parts Robert’s cheeks and probes gently to make sure he’s not hurt.

Aaron nods, “Y’alright?”

He checks for minute changes in Robert’s face, but he seems happy enough.

“I like when you touch my arse.”

Aaron looks up at Robert and he’s rolling his lips into his mouth again, trying not to laugh and Aaron shoves at him.

“Ya knob.”

“Hey, no, interrupt my shower anytime.” Robert tucks his head down and kisses Aaron’s collarbone, his nose resting on Aaron’s shoulder.

“To think I was grateful for you this morning.” Aaron jests, faux anger in place and Robert pulls at his hips so he doesn’t go too far away.

“I’m grateful for you every morning.” Robert counters and it’s entirely too sweet.

Aaron reaches past Robert and picks up his shower gel, starts to lather him back up, “Grateful I touch your arse?”

Robert gives him a look, but Aaron ignores it and covers Robert’s back in his poncy shower gel and down into his bum crease.

Aaron caves because his heart feels too big not too, “I love you.”

Robert looks a little taken aback, “I love you too.”

 

 

 

 

They clean up, put on their ‘His & His’ pjs and watch the movie. It was pretty gay, but it resonates with both of them, has them both squeezing their laced fingers as Aaron lays back on Robert’s chest.

Robert kisses Aaron’s neck and whispers, “I still love you.”

It’s a testament to how soppy Aaron’s feeling because he barely grumbles before he says, “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

He finds himself wondering what the hell he was thinking calling Robert like that. What was he supposed to say? Hey, my boyfriend just left, please come back?

“Fuck. Fuck.”

Scooping his phone back up again, Aaron shouts to Liv, “I’m just popping out, back in a bit.”

 

 

Unlocking his car out front, Aaron slides in and fumbles with his keys in the dark before getting them in the ignition. He’s almost shaking with pent-up energy and he doesn’t know what to do. Starting the car, he pulls out the drive and lets his hands guide the steering wheel down the paths out and away from the village.

When he stops, he wants to laugh at his own pathetic subconscious. He’s sitting in the layby that Robert first kissed him in. It’s almost like their life together runs behind his eyes like a movie, with great highs and terrible lows, until his brain reaches tonight and the simplicity of hanging out with Robert in his kitchen. He can visualise the delicate bones of Robert’s wrists as he rolled the pasta out for the tortellini, his long fingers dusted with flour as he flopped it over for another turn.

“I’m proud of you,” rattles in his brain as Aaron’s adrenaline settles, but his body doesn’t, not completely.

Aaron thinks back again to Robert’s hands as he opened and closed cupboard doors, ones he knows by heart despite barely living with them, Robert covering his thumb with his opposite hand because he was upset.

Admit it.

“No.” He tells himself.

Admit it.

It’s a ghost of a touch, a memory Aaron has from before where Robert cupped the sides of his neck with his wide hands and pressed his thumbs against Aaron’s cheeks.

There’s another from when they were lying in bed one morning and Robert laid his palm flat over Aaron’s heart before writing silly doodles with his fingers. Aaron rubs at his chest when he remembers that one, the curl of the ‘t’ when Robert wrote his name over him in invisible ownership: mine.

He shifts ever so slightly when he can’t stop the images of that Wednesday when Robert had him on his back, hands holding his waist, pinned down almost, as his hips kicked up and he made a home for himself inside Aaron’s body. That same Wednesday, he stayed inside Aaron and traced over Aaron’s belly button after Aaron came, teasing out more pleasure with a light hand skating over his happy trail.

Admit it.

Aaron can’t admit it, it feels like failure, but so does undoing his trousers and pushing his seat back in his car. He teases over himself like Robert did the first day they spent together when he moved into the pub. Robert got Aaron to sit on his lap, in his pants, and Robert rubbed him hard like a fifteen-year-old boy. And it worked.

He bites his lip as he pushes his top up and out of the way, freeing himself from his boxers, sliding up and down in a loose fist. Robert’s fingers are perfect for this, Aaron can think of a hundred times when Robert has put him on his knees and ridden Aaron forward into his own grasp, and how easily it encompasses the whole of Aaron’s dick even though Aaron knows logically his hand is not that big.

In contrast, Aaron doesn’t keep his own hand loose, not when he rolls his hips down on instinct and it makes him remember the times Robert plied his arse with lube and curled his fingers inside like a pianist to Aaron’s sheet music. He’s just a piece of paper, flimsy and unmade, waiting to be played by artful fingers. He aches to remember what it truly feels like, to feel whole and unfettered.

Admit it.

He spits on his hand and thinks about Robert’s mouth, so close and yet so far. He knows he’d taste the garlic and not care, the soft mozzarella on Robert’s tongue and how it would dance with his, slick and hot, and it makes Aaron burn.

He’s grinding in his seat in earnest now, soft little moans break the silence. For as much as he wants this, Aaron tries to hold it in, tries to keep his mouth shut, but nothing works. He can see as if Robert is in front of him, the open collar of his navy shirt, the soft freckles on his skin and how many times he’s put Robert on his knees, hands holding behind Aaron’s and painted come on his throat and those same freckles.

Admit it.

Aaron comes high up on himself, staining his skin and his jumper. He ignores the memories of Robert wiping him clean and tucking him away, putting back together the broken pieces of him like it’s nothing.

He caves.

He answers the voice in his head.

“I love him.”

Except that’s a memory now too.

Sorting himself out the best he can, Aaron puts his seat back and turns the ignition and flicks up his indicator to get himself back on the road. He won’t live in the past, he can’t, and that’s what Robert is.

The silence of his thoughts tells him exactly what he thinks of his own bullshit.

Too bad, what other option is there? He throws out petulantly.

Hold your hand out for his.

Chapter Text

Aaron didn’t think it would be this hard.

He made his choice, he stayed with Alex rather than trying again with Robert. It made sense.

It doesn’t account for the empty space inside his chest. It’s not even ‘I miss Robert’, it’s more than that. It’s like part of him has been torn away and he’s limping through life, bleeding and wounded.

The first time Alex touches him after that, he turns over and says he’s still not better even though he said he was.

*

He finds that their dinner was an open door to all kinds of mayhem.

He’s sleeping in bed when he’s sure he can feel Robert’s palm on his waist. It’s the memory of that stupid Valentine’s Day last year, where they ate dinner, Robert gave him a single rose like a dickhead and said something like, “for my beloved” in a dramatic voice before he pressed Aaron down on his back and kissed him sore.

“If you loved me, I’d be a lot further along.” Aaron jokes and Robert smiles, rolling his hips over Aaron’s, drawing out a little hiss, and Aaron holds on to his hips gently with widespread fingers.

Robert counters though, “If you loved me, you’d have more patience.”

“Sod off, you’ve been humping my dick for ten minutes.”

Robert belly laughs and unbuttons Aaron’s jeans while still lying on top of him, they shimmy them down to Aaron’s thighs and Robert slips his fingers into Aaron’s underwear and helps to work him fully hard.

“I just want to appreciate you,” Robert tells him, and his voice tells Aaron that he has zero intentions of appreciating Aaron and every one of them is going to drive him barmy.

Still, Aaron goes with it, “Appreciate me and suck me off, Loverboy.”

Robert’s eyebrows raise at the nickname and he rubs heavily at the head of Aaron’s cock. Aaron sighs and pushes up and Robert stops when he does, back to the longer strokes down the shaft.

“There is no romance in you, is there?” Robert scolds.

Dragging Robert’s hand back up the head, “It’s roughly about there.”

“So like a magic lamp, if I rub it, I’ll get three wishes?” He teases.

“Maybe not three wishes, but–ah,” Aaron rolls his hips and resettles himself on the bed, “Definitely one prayer.”

“Oh god, oh god, oh god?”

Aaron shakes his head, “Fuck, make me come.”

“Never heard of it.”

Aaron huffs, mock outraged, and pulls at Robert’s jeans, gripping his arse and pushing his dick into the crease of his hip for at least a little of his own medicine.

“Give me five minutes,” Aaron tells him as Robert’s breathing shallows.

*

He wakes up hard and he ignores it. Just walks himself right to the shower and turns the water to cold and lets it do its job.

Alex is standing in the doorway, teeth brushed, when Aaron gets out and he leans down for a kiss that Aaron doesn’t extend.

“I’ve got work. Will you be alright?” Aaron asks him, folding a towel around his hips.

“Yeah, thanks.”

If Alex notices Aaron’s cold shoulder, he doesn’t mention it.

*

Aaron’s got his hands flat on the headboard while Robert shoves inside him from behind.

“Oh god,” He hangs his head between his shoulders, his thighs shaking from the force of Robert’s thrusts, a red palm print on his thigh to stop him from relaxing down as his dick slaps against his belly.

“Two more.”

“What the–?” Aaron realises what he’s going on about and he laughs, “Ya knob.”

He’s leaking, pressing his legs wider open, but Robert’s hands drag him back up and onto his cock and every downward drag pushes sparks into Aaron’s balls and up into his stomach as he whines and pants, his fingers flexing on nothing.

Robert’s hand slips past him when he reaches around and he gives a gentle tug on Aaron’s balls, just enough to pull them away from his body.

“No.” He whispers softly, more instinct than order.

Robert ignores him, tugs again as he pushes in hard, as deep as he can go and Aaron’s hands slide off the headboard. He cries out, the music they put on barely covering it, and he tries to get rid of Robert’s hand.

“I want you to come, Aaron. Are you gonna come?” A slow, deep roll and the headboard hits against the wall. Another and Robert’s hips slap against Aaron’s arse. “Give me your hands.”

Aaron leans up and crosses them at his wrists and flops down onto his front without any support. Robert holds him with one hand and goes back to pounding into Aaron’s body. There’s nothing Aaron can do but accept the pleasure. His mouth is just a stream of nothing as he groans and whines and dribbles pre-come on his own thighs, his cock waving in the air again as everything tightens up and he spills on the duvet, his skin, even on his stomach. He shudders intensely, his body overcome and his breathing chokes a little with every jerk of his body. He’s moaning softly into the purple cover as Robert eases his thrusts and lets go of his hands. Robert wriggles his hips and Aaron shunts forward, overstimulated and done.

*

Dinner is a quiet affair. Liv is sullen because of the awfulness of her party and Aaron doesn’t know what to say to her, Alex tries to comfort him with a hand on his knee and he pulls it away in shock. Alex frowns at him and Aaron smiles apologetically.

“Things with Liv are complicated,” Aaron explains as he shows Alex to the door, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, tell her I’m thinking about her, okay?” Alex gives him a kiss and Aaron allows it. Alex’s mouth is warm, his lips a little dry, but it’s not unpleasant.

“Night.” He says as he closes the door.

*

Robert’s lips are wet with spit as Aaron folds Robert’s knee under his armpit, driving his cock deeper inside as Robert keens and pulls Aaron’s arse in tighter. They kiss, but it’s more a mash of mouths as Aaron rides down on him, one hand on Robert’s shoulder to keep him flat to the bed with his dick swollen and on display. It is currently the most fetching red colour and purple around the middle of the head.

“Aaron, come on.”

He wants permission to touch it and he doesn’t have it.

“No.”

Aaron turns his thrusts shallow and slow, Robert sighing and trying to pull his bum closer again.

“Stop it.” He warns.

Robert takes his hands off and reaches up and tweaks one of Aaron’s nipples. It kicks his hips forward and Robert grunts happily as it drives Aaron deep inside. Aaron pushes Robert’s leg away and lies down on Robert’s belly and chest, hooking his hands under his shoulders, pushing his own stomach down onto Robert’s cock as he rams himself in as deeply and as fast as he can.

Robert lets out one long moan that seems to never end, it’s only punctuated by Aaron’s thrusts until Aaron leans up enough to wank him off and he shoots up to his neck and curls his hands into fists that he doesn’t release until his body stops painting him with come.

Hands come up and rub at Aaron’s neck, soft little touches that just make sure that Aaron is there and Aaron is real.

“Fuck, you made me come.” Robert breathes, happily.

Aaron looks at Robert with his dopey just came smile on his face and he laughs. Then he kisses him, sweet and tender.

*

“Are we alright?” Alex asks him the next night over a beer in the pub. They met up here and Aaron has been spacey most of the night.

“Yeah, ‘course we are.”

How can he admit that when he showered tonight that he rubbed one out to his ex-husband? So he doesn’t.

Robert is actually in tonight, sitting with Vic and Seb. Vic is cooing over him in her arms, Robert smiling softly at him.

His heart aches.

His heart isn’t empty.

His heart isn’t lonely.

It’s broken.

It longs for the man who makes him laugh, appreciates him, makes him come, sees Aaron for all that he is.

As if he knew Aaron’s thoughts, Robert looks over at him for a second, but rather than smiling, he looks away.

Now his heart is shattered, and that’s all his fault.

Chapter Text

Robert moans as Aaron digs his thumbs in either side of his spine, pressing down but dragging his fingers up towards the tops of Robert’s shoulders.

“I wish we had more time,” Robert mumbles. Liv and Gerry have taken Seb for a Sunday kickabout on the green and hopefully will hop him up on sugar for a few hours afterwards so that he and Aaron can have some alone time. Or at least some time to recuperate from a 4-year-old who launches himself at you every time he sees you. Aaron never seems to have a problem with it, he just swings Seb up in his arms and Robert is the grouch who oofs and barely manages to right himself after being hit by a freight train.

The water of their bath sloshes as Robert drops his hands onto his thighs and he sighs quietly with the release of his muscles as Aaron works him over.

“Don’t think about it,” Aaron tells him with a kiss on his shoulder, “Just be here with me.”

Robert leans the other way and rests his head back on Aaron’s shoulder and he can’t help but nuzzle his face against Aaron’s, the scratch of his beard a welcomed roughness on his skin.

“Always, Mr Sugden.” He says as if he’s got to fit all of his husband related soppiness into this tiny amount of time, and Robert doesn’t waste a second of it. He does get pinched on his side for it though, where his tiny love handles have started appearing with age. “Oi.”

Aaron chuckles and smoothes his hand over Robert in the water, “Sorry.”

He’s not sorry, but Robert slips a little further to the side and turns before he bites Aaron low on his jaw. A hand creeps over his thigh and Robert spreads a little automatically, his knees knocking into Aaron’s against the side of the bath. Aaron wraps his other arm around Robert’s front, hand cupping his chest, thumb dragging over his nipple as it slips in and out of the water as he moves.

It’s nothing exciting really, but Robert feels it in his legs, his stomach, the slow march of desire as it works its way through his body. He slides further up again, sitting back more on Aaron’s groin as Aaron’s hand moves over him, past his balls and pushes a little on the space between them and his arse.

“Do we have time?” Robert asks and Aaron hums no. His stomach drops a little with disappointment, but Aaron doesn’t stop, his fingers move back up and curl over his cock and moves in slow and broad strokes. He wriggles a little and gets bitten on his shoulder, “You said we didn’t have time.”

Aaron lets him go and pushes at his back, “We don’t have time for that.”

Ah.

He steps out the bath, rubs his feet on the mat and catches Aaron by his bum and pulls him into the space in front of his body. He’s still soaked, his skin fresh and perfumed from the bath stuff, Robert never asks, but it tastes great when he licks and sucks at Aaron’s chest, bites high up on his belly.

“Move,” Aaron laughs gently and uses his body to walk Robert back into their room, either he moves or he’ll be run over by Aaron.

They get to the bed, but Robert doesn’t let him push him down, he guides Aaron to lie on his back, his body on display and displaying a semi. Robert brushes his hand over it, splays his fingers to maximise how much Aaron can feel and he spits down on him to help keep him wet enough to take Robert rubbing him off. Aaron sits up and gets his hands behind Robert’s knees and makes him get on the bed, legs either side of Aaron’s, on all fours, as he returns the favour. Robert lets his head drop for a second and when he raises it up, he catches the lube out the corner of his eye.

Aaron bites at his bicep as he leans over and grabs it, eyes zeroing in on it, “Robert.”

“No sex.” Robert agrees. He rolls his head to the side and the other as Aaron firms up his grip on his cock and he rolls his hips in little half circles before he finds his resolve. “Knees up.”

He does as he’s told, Robert having to shift so that he’s inside of Aaron’s legs now and he slicks his fingers up before pushing gently at Aaron’s rim.

Aaron’s mouth drops into a little o as Robert watches him, wetting the unyielding skin with lubricant. Aaron’s hand has stopped moving so Robert reminds him with a little drag back of his hips and Aaron nods, leaning up for a kiss as he starts up again. Robert forces Aaron to open his mouth with that kiss, pushes his tongue inside to overwhelm him, licking behind his teeth, pressing his tongue down with Robert’s own, swallowing the little moan he does into it before his first finger pushes inside Aaron’s arse.

He gives a little grunt, so Robert stops, waits until Aaron opens his eyes and they’re clear of pain and hold only expectation. The heat of the bath has helped, Robert probes a little with the second and it slides in easily next to the first. Aaron starts to curl his fingers tight around the head of Robert’s dick and he feels that start to send cold shivers down his thighs.

Drawing out, Robert squeezes out more lube and Aaron holds out for some of his own. The now wet heat around the head of his cock makes it hard to focus and he lets himself roll into it a couple of times, Aaron wrapping his other arm around his shoulders and pulling him down for another kiss, this time, Aaron guides it, Robert helpless to the teasing almost licks that Aaron gives and takes away, his teeth nipping at Robert’s lips when he pushes for more.

“Easy, Mr Dingle.”

Robert blinks, it penetrates his sex fog and he smiles at his husband, a peck on his lips for it as he works his fingers back inside, twisting them together and curling upwards before he spreads them a little. Aaron breathes, his belly quivering as Robert almost tilts his pelvis up with the bend of his wrist.

It’s quiet, but Aaron asks him for more, so Robert starts to thrust them a little, Aaron’s hand picking up in tandem on Robert’s shaft as they moan into each other’s spaces, mouths catching when Robert licks his lips.The pure open want on Aaron’s face is how it starts. Robert can feel him contracting gently on his fingers, but his eyes are closing as he tries to cling to the feelings Robert is making him endure. Slowly, Robert eases his ring finger to touch the edge of Aaron’s rim, Aaron’s other hand immediately going to his wrist. Robert stops and Aaron rocks his hips, working himself onto Robert’s third finger before he lets go with a soft cry and Robert continues to thrust them back and forth, in and out of Aaron’s waiting and willing body.

“You’re so hot, Aaron, fuck, you’re just swallowing me up,” Robert starts, Aaron shakes his head, his dirty talk is always a little much for Aaron to return, but Robert knows he likes it, likes to know how he pleases Robert, “I think I’m going to put four inside you. Make you fuck yourself on me.”

Aaron whimpers and Robert can feel his dick dribbling at the thought of making Aaron come, “I can feel it even better than my cock, every twitch, every contraction. You’re like silk.”

As if at Robert’s words, Aaron’s body contracts tight, holds Robert’s fingers inside him for a second and releases before Robert pushes them in further rather than taking them out. Aaron lifts his hips up and sighs and that turns into a moan.

For Robert, Aaron is everything, watching him get pleasure from what Robert does for him has his balls tightening up against his body and when he leans down for a kiss, Aaron whines like he can’t experience any more pleasure.

“Oh god, do it, Aaron, make me come.” He whispers against Aaron’s mouth and Aaron pushes his thumb over the head of Robert’s cock and it’s fireworks behind his eyes. He can hear himself say, “ah” like he’s in pain, but it’s so so good. Aaron keeps dragging his fingers over him and he covers Aaron’s cock and pubes with come. Aaron takes his hand off Robert and touches it gently, smoothly rubbing it into his skin.

It’s under his breath, but Robert bites Aaron’s neck and says, “You fucker.”

He pulls out and down to avoid hurting Aaron, but he applies another coat of slick before he pushes Aaron’s right knee out the way as he slides back in the three Aaron can handle and the tip of the fourth. Aaron tries to close his legs, but Robert is leaning back now, able to focus completely on exposing him.

“Don’t hide,” He tells Aaron, “I love looking at you.”

He changes his mind and pulls out again, “Up.”

Aaron looks a little sexed out, but he sits up when Robert moves off the bed. He offers Aaron a hand up and moves him so that Robert is sitting and he’s standing.

“Ride me,” Robert tells him and Aaron scoots so that he’s sitting on Robert’s lap, Robert’s fingers exploring him again and gravity bringing him down on all four of Robert’s fingers. Aaron wraps his arms around his shoulders and draws slowly up and down. Robert spreads his legs a little, giving himself more room and he starts pushing against Aaron a little. It pulls small moans out of him and where he’s sloppy and wet with lube at this point Robert speeds up his hand.

Like Robert, Aaron mutters under his breath, “mmm, more.”

“You want more? Take it.” Robert encourages him and Aaron starts to bounce some on the intrusion. “That’s it, it’s all yours.”

Aaron bites his own lip into his mouth and shifts side to side when he moves down entirely on Robert’s fingers. Robert takes that as his sign to grab Aaron’s hip and thrust inside like he’s fucking him. Aaron chokes at first, his body seizing and then he gets loose and rolls against Robert’s thrusts. His body is hot, inside and out, velvety and sucking Robert in.

“Aaron, you’re beautiful. You’re so beautiful.”

Aaron leans back and starts stripping his own dick, the gloss of Robert’s come still on him as he adds his own pre-come to it. Robert splays his fingers the tiny amount that he can and Aaron cries out, his hand moving even faster as he ropes come up onto the flatness of his stomach.

Aaron flops down onto him, head on his shoulder, his breathing heavy.

Robert lets go of his hip and strokes up and down Aaron’s back before easing out of him and getting him onto his back on the bed. Aaron opens his arms for a cuddle, so Robert just lies down on Aaron’s chest and lets his body go in a way only a good fuck can give him.

He kisses Aaron’s skin and they fight falling asleep, aware of the time and the enormous wet patches on their bed.

Aaron is the one who breaks the spell, “Come on, Dad, time to move.”

The reminder draws a line in the sand and Robert goes back to the bathroom to have a quick shower to get clean and he strips the bed while Aaron takes his turn.

Robert is downstairs making a cup of tea when the door opens and his son comes flying in at a hundred miles an hour. Liv is alone behind him and more cautious. Robert left the bedding upstairs and he’ll wash it tonight, save everyone’s blushes, including his own.

“Good day?” He asks as Seb collides with his legs.

Liv smiles when she realises she hasn’t interrupted anything, “Seb was the winning goal scorer.”

“Really? Nice one.” Robert ruffles his hair, but he can tell Seb is looking for Aaron as his head turns and doesn’t really focus on anything.

“Aaron’s upstairs,” Robert says to Liv more than Seb, but he looks up excitedly. “No, Seb, wait for him to come down.”

He doesn’t think Aaron is naked, but best not risk it. Aaron comes down as soon as he thinks it anyway, Seb running over to him and launching himself at Aaron for another impromptu flying lesson.

“How’s things, kiddo?” Aaron asks him as he rights Seb in his arms.

“I won the goal, Dad.”

Liv sighs, fondly exasperated, “Scored, Seb.”

“Scored,” He nods, smiling at Liv.

“You two?” She asks, hesitantly.

Robert smiles, “Well rested, thanks.”

Chapter Text

Sex with Robert is brilliant. Robert always gets Aaron off whether it’s pinning him down and riding his arse or swallowing him down, but there is a glaringly obvious lack when it comes to. Well. You know.

Rimming.

Aaron has only ever experienced it a couple of times, and unable to get out of his own head, he never got there. Not without more than a little help. Robert, with his smug ego and insatiable need to grab and touch every part of Aaron, makes him think that maybe, maybe, Robert could get him there.

But that’s a bit…gay, isn’t it? Definitely for Mr. I’m so Straight.

Aaron has taken a pass at Robert’s arse when he sucked his balls so he knows that it’s at least on the table.

Robert is fiddling with a bottle of something sparkly, Aaron doesn’t care, his eyes taking in the entirety of his bed partner. Tall, blonde, pretty; Robert would clean house at a gay bar if he ever admitted it to himself.

“Care to share?” Robert asks him as he pours the liquid into two glasses.

Aaron lets the fizz spread out over his tongue, “No.”

“Liar.”

He’s sat on the bed when he spreads his legs, Robert’s eyes drawn immediately to his groin.

“Doesn’t matter, I suppose,” Robert smiles and then downs his glass.

*

Aaron’s arms shake as he holds himself up on all fours. Robert is rubbing his hand up and down his back like he’s soothing him, but it just sparks more feelings under his skin.

His breathing stops when he feels Robert’s breath on his bum. Fingers spread him and Robert is so close that Aaron almost feels the ghost of his mouth on him when he spits directly onto him. The whole thing shocks him, shoves him forward and away from Robert’s face.

“Aaron?”

He doesn’t look back, his face is surely red with embarrassment. Robert touches his rim, spreads his spit around, but Aaron doesn’t move. He thinks he’s home free, but Robert skates his breath across him again. His thighs tense.

Robert licks him, it’s barely a touch, barely the tip, but Aaron whines heavy in his chest and tries to get up. Robert stops him with hands that trap him, pushing him down by the small of his back.

“Aaron.” It’s firm now, expectant. “You can tell me what you want.”

Aaron freezes. He wonders if it’s real. If he just comes out and says it, he’ll get it. It can’t be. Not with Robert.

“Get off me.” Aaron decides after a moment and Robert lets him go.

Robert sits back, stretches his legs out and crosses his feet at his ankles as he leans on his arm. Aaron stands up, his dick flagging as he doesn’t know whether to put his pants on or try and, he doesn’t know, start over?

He feels exposed and kind of silly, but nothing has dimmed the fire in Robert’s eyes, his hand creeping down to give himself a cheeky rub. 

“Come back to bed, Aaron.” Robert tries to cajole, his hand still moving, “We don’t have to talk about it.”

Aaron blinks. He’s considering it.

“I just want to touch you, all of you.” Robert sits up now, moves to the edge of the bed, and like a magnet, Aaron is pulled into the space between his thighs. “Let’s just keep it simple.”

Robert takes him into his mouth, holds his bum as Aaron stands, cupping his hand around the back of Robert’s head. He lets his fingers spread and catch the strands, his breathing speeding up when Robert pulls off him. One hand slips off his bum and teases the crease, his taint.

“Robert.” He hisses. Robert looks up at him with clear eyes, the little shit. He’s tapping against Aaron like the flick of a tongue would, nothing like when he opens Aaron’s body in preparation to fuck.

Truth is, he hasn’t said anything.

Robert’s fingertip pushes in a tiny amount and he almost flicks it, stretching at Aaron’s rim. It pulls at Aaron in a completely different way and he can’t help but grab the back of Robert’s neck.

Looking up at him under his lashes, Robert drops his hands from Aaron.

The ball is in his court.

“Do it.” Aaron caves.

Robert kisses his stomach, “Do what?”

Aaron should of…”You know, my–”

Robert scoots back and splays his legs, “I don’t.”

He’s gonna make Aaron say it. He thinks he has Aaron trapped, but Aaron isn’t anyone’s prisoner.

“Rim my arse.” He keeps his face straight but his heart is pounding.

Robert smiles, “Back on your knees then.”

*

Aaron has a pillow in each fist as he breathes into where his face is pressed into the hotel bed. Of course, Robert is good at this.

His cheeks parted as wide as is comfortable, Robert is wetting the tight skin, spitting on it again, using the flat broadness of his tongue cover the whole of Aaron’s rim. He does it over and over until Aaron can feel Robert’s saliva dribbling down behind his balls. Then he sucks a little at the skin before fastly rubbing two fingers against Aaron.

Aaron curls forward and breathes, “Shit.”

Robert ignores him and bites him, worries the skin between his teeth before releasing it, tongue laving any possible hurt but it just feels amazing. He does it again, and again, each time the tiny pinch of teeth spreads to warmth and Aaron feels his cock swell and drip as he humps the air when he rocks off Robert’s face.

Hands come around and hold him by his hips and Robert pushes his face into Aaron’s cheeks and breaches him with his tongue. It’s slippery and hot inside him and Robert keeps it there, licking him and dragging heated sighs from Aaron as he squeezes himself.

It isn’t until Robert starts to thrust his tongue like he would his cock that Aaron whimpers loudly, high pitched and from a place beyond himself. Robert takes a hand away from his hips and puts his thumb between Aaron’s arse and his chin, pushing down on it like he might slide it in alongside his tongue. He doesn’t but makes Robert’s tongue feel fuller, deeper inside him.

“Jesus,” Aaron lets go the pillows, pushes himself up and flexes his fingers against the bed, “I think–I think I’m gonna come.”

Robert leans back, Aaron feels the absence of him in the cold air that makes his rim tingle. His thumb pops past Aaron’s resistance but he doesn’t draw it out straight, he lets it pull at the top edge of him, just like before.

Oh.

Aaron gets a hand around his cock and Robert covers him again, thrusts back in again and Aaron lets himself enjoy it. Everything is slick and sloppy as he pushes back and Robert lets him, humming happily to guide Aaron to keep riding his face.

“Oh fuck,” Robert pulls away from him abruptly, Aaron turns back in confusion, and Robert holds him down by pressing on his back again, his hand flying over his cock as he comes all over Aaron’s back. Turned on by tongue fucking his arse. Robert groans and shakes and Aaron feels the echoes of him inside as he rubs the head of his dick, trying to meet him at the end.

Robert comes back to his arse and he doesn’t let Aaron set the pace this time. He pinches Aaron’s hips as he drags him on and off his face, his tongue meeting no resistance at this point, his bottom teeth worry his rim, and it pushes Aaron over the edge. His come paints the bed, his fingers and his belly. Robert hums against Aaron’s skin and it just intensifies his orgasm until the weight of his body dropping on the bed pulls him from Robert’s hands.

Wide hands rub the backs of his thighs and then Robert lies down next to Aaron.

“Good?” Robert asks him.

Aaron nods.

“Okay.”

*

They get dressed in the morning and Robert catches Aaron as he’s getting ready to leave first.

“Don’t–” Robert frowns like he isn’t quite sure how to say what he wants to say, “Don’t feel like you can’t ask me for things. In bed.”

Aaron’s heart swells. It feels too much like a relationship like this, Robert leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss to his now slack with surprise mouth.

A tap on his arse, “Now go.”

Robert is smiling, but Aaron feels his stomach drop.

At least the sex is good. He says it in his mind like a mantra, at least the sex is good because what else is there ever gonna be?

Chapter Text

Robert is stretching out in bed, his muscle lax, his bones almost liquified from all the warm fuzzy feelings he has for the beautiful man in front of him. Aaron, on the other hand, is grabbing his trousers and pulling them up over his pants.

“Okay,” Robert rolls onto his back and leans his head in his hand, “If I ask what’s wrong, will you tell me?”

Aaron blinks at him as if he hadn’t realised Robert was there. That makes him sit up. Aaron, for all his grumpy facade, is always present when you need him.

“What’s going on?” He can feel his heart pounding as Aaron picks up his phone again. He can tell Aaron wants to pass it off, but part of him niggles that it’s him that Aaron is trying to brush off.

Aaron sighs, “It’s Liv. Well, Gabby and Liv.”

“Trouble in girly paradise?” Robert flattens the duvet between his legs, spreading it under his fingers.

“You could say that. Gabby was bang out of order on Liv’s birthday,” Aaron picks up his top.

Robert presses, “And?”

“Liv’s going through summat, Gabby decided that she was gonna tell everyone right in front of Liv’s face.”

Robert reaches for Aaron’s hand and Aaron turns his palm up and they just sort of rub them together until Robert grabs hold of Aaron’s wrist, “Aaron.”

“I think Gabby was trying to out, Liv.”

“And by out, you mean–”

“Out.”

“Oh.” Robert can see the hunch of Aaron’s shoulders now, the pain he’s holding inside himself for Liv. “Has she…said anything?”

Aaron shakes his head, “It was ‘orrible. Gabby had written skank on Liv’s back and–”

Aaron sighs, shaky and raw, Robert throws off the duvet and sets himself up so he’s behind Aaron, legs either side of his regardless of his nakedness and arms hugging around his waist.

“You need to talk to her, Aaron.”

“I know, I tried. I just don’t know how.”

Aaron plays with the hair on Robert’s forearm and laces their fingers together when he stops.

Robert kisses his back and leans his cheek on Aaron’s shoulder, “You do. You talk to her like Paddy talked to you. You listen to her like you listened to me.”

“What if it’s not enough?”

Robert sighs, “She’s lost and alone, Aaron, it’s enough. Anything from you is enough.”

“If I do wrong. If I make a mess of it, will you help?” Aaron asks him, quietly.

“Of course, I will.”

Arms wrapped back around Aaron’s waist, Robert tries to calm the beating of his own heart. He remembers how ugly it was when Aaron outed him. How exposed he felt and there was nothing he could do to claw it back, his truth out there for the world to see and barely any of the reception good.

“I’m sorry, y’know,” Aaron whispers even lower than before, “about when I did it to you.”

The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a grown man or a teenage girl, it’s never an okay thing. He’s forgiven Aaron, he has, but it will always be a wound he lives with.

“It’s done now. Just do better with Liv.”

“Okay.” Firm. Resolute. So help God, anyone who tries to hurt Liv over this now. Aaron is a lion who will roar when his family is threatened. But more than that, he’s all heart, and no one is gonna understand Liv better.

“I love you,” Robert tells him, and Aaron nods. “It’ll be alright.”

Will it? He hopes so.

Chapter Text

The first thing that happens is that Aaron’s heart breaks, seeing ‘Skank’ written on his sister’s pale skin.

“Get out.” Aaron’s voice is cold, but it’s not enough. It doesn’t convey the depth of his anger. How dare this girl do this to Liv, on her birthday of all days. Bernice is a shock of blue in the field of his vision and then he holds his hand out, “No. Actually, tell me why.”

“Aaron.” His mum is moving in close to him, hand on his arm. Gerry has already made his way to Liv, offering his chest if she wants to hide in it, Sam off to the side waiting to be called upon just in case.

“She wrote that on Liv’s back so she obviously planned it, so she can tell me why.” Aaron can hear his voice rising and Liv is looking at him with imploring eyes. He can tell she just wants it over, wants her gone, but Aaron can’t let it go. Noah is now down by Gabby’s other side, Debbie behind him. She looks at them and moves closer to her mother.

Bernice tries to calm him, “Aaron, it’s just–”

“Just what? A teenage prank? She wrote skank on me sister’s back. Tried to out her and for what? I’m waiting.”

Debbie nods to him, “Leave it, Aaron.”

He looks at Debbie and he’s incredulous.

“Not for her, for Liv.”

He’s at war with himself. Liv is tucked up with Gerry, almost like she’s blocked out every sound with her eyes closed, head down, praying for it to be over.

“We’ll deal with it,” Debbie reassures him, “We’re Dingles. All of us.”

Liv looks up at Debbie and Debbie gives her a small encouraging smile. Every Dingle in attendance steps forward, it’s not everyone, but it’s enough to fill a half circle around Liv. Let Gabby say what she wants. Liv has people to protect her.

Bernice is looking at him still, “I’ll take her, Aaron, okay. I’ll sort it.”

Aaron feels his inner voice snarl, “you won’t”, but he relaxes. Stands down. “You ain’t welcome here.” He tells Gabby and he knows she hears his words.

“Aaron.” Liv’s voice is soft and he goes to her, wraps her up in his arms even though she hates that and he whispers that it’ll be alright. Chas rubs Liv’s back and they form the tightest shield around her.

Dingles protect their own, and Liv is one of them.

Chapter Text

Liv finally has that talk with Aaron.

He fumbles a bit, reassures her that it’s okay to like girls, boys, both, and Liv just wonders when he’s going to say neither. That it’s completely fine to be a void to it all. It’s not even like Liv feels empty, that something has been taken from her because nothing ever existed in that space. It makes her wonder how can she explain that to someone who has never not felt it. He and Robert are gross with the amount that they get caught with their hands up each other’s tops and that one time with Robert’s hand down the back of Aaron’s jeans. It’s fine. It doesn’t bother Liv, but it’s not something she connects with. She thinks about the people she’s tried to kiss and it’s fine. Their lips touched, but nothing changed. Life continues on its axis.

“Whatever happens, it’s all good, Liv.” Aaron breathes like he’s finished a marathon race and Liv sees the pleading look in his eyes.

“I don’t–” She can’t work around how to say it, “I don’t want to. With anyone.”

Aaron schools his face, but he leans back, “Anyone?”

She shakes her head, “It’s fine. I don’t feel bad or anything, I just. Don’t want to.”

“Okay.”

Her heart rises, “Is it?”

Aaron’s face softens as he grabs her for a hug, “Of course it is.”

“You don’t think I have to wait and figure it out?” Liv mumbles into his jumper.

“I dunno, maybe? Whadda you think?”

“I dunno.” She admits.

“Either way, Liv, what Gabby did. I don’t want you round that. At least for now.” Aaron sighs, “What she did, telling people like that, just give her a wide berth, yeah?”

*

Liv thinks on it. Gabby is her friend and she doesn’t want to abandon her, but she also can’t forget everyone staring at her as she stood humiliated on all fronts.

She sees Gabby waiting for the bus and she walks over.

“Hi,” Gabby starts.

Liv puts her hand out, “Me first. I get it, you were upset, but what you did, I need some space.”

Liv.”

“We’re not good friends to each other, Gabby,” Liv looks down, “It ain’t just you, but this was bad. You let me think we were friends and you wrote ‘skank’ on my back.”

Gabby is looking off to the side, biting her lip with emotion because they both know she’s right.

“I know I’ve done bad stuff, and I’m sorry, but I’d never do this.”

It’s not fair and Liv wishes things could be different. It’s just. This won’t blow over. There is no backup plan to defend Liv. She either comes out as gay or bi, which she’s not, or she tells everyone that she doesn’t like anyone, which somehow feels worse.

“Who’s gonna be your friend then?” It’s not malicious, but Gabby always seems to feel like if she doesn’t take pity on Liv, Liv won’t survive.

“My friend, Jacob. After we sorted that Valentine’s Day nonsense.” Liv thought she’d feel triumph when she saw that Gabby realised she kicked off for nothing, but she just feels wronged. “He got it. Like I thought you did.”

Liv doesn’t stay for any response. She hopes that she and Gabby can find their way back, but Aaron’s right. For now, it’s not what she needs. It’s not what Gabby needs.

Pulling out her phone, Liv texts Jacob: Xbox later?

Chapter Text

“You’re fussing.”

Robert checks Seb’s backpack again; weak juice, fruit snacks, sandwich, his favourite dinosaur, Happy.

“I’m not.”

Aaron rolls his eyes without ever taking his focus off the road. Seb is excitedly pressed up against the car door because he loves to try and catch a glimpse of the world outside from his seat, watching the green of the trees and the cows in the fields.

“He’s gonna have to go sooner or later, Rob,” Aaron points out, changing gear before giving Robert’s knee a squeeze. Nursery is a right of passage for any child.

Robert sighs, “I know, it’s just…he’s 3.”

Head of pale blonde hair and his father’s green-blue eyes, Seb turns his attention back to his car giraffe. He’s very insistent that Rupert stay in the car and guard the car when they’re not inside it. When they are, Rupert takes pride of place on Seb’s lap and listens to all his secrets. Aaron doesn’t need to turn around to know Seb is faux whispering to Rupert about his dad.

“He’s old enough, he needs to be with other kids, the book says it.” Aaron’s number one get around with Robert is to use the stupid baby book that lives in Robert’s bedside table like a bible of all things child-related. Robert is a great dad and that’s why he’s so attached to his son.

Parking up, Aaron slips out of the driver’s side door as Robert scoops Seb out and rearranges his denim dungarees and stripey jumper. He’s got his good shoes on, the little tan boots that double up as wellies, and his tiny blue parka jacket that Aaron bought him for the start of the school year.

“Ya ready, bud?” Aaron asks Seb as he runs his hand over Seb’s hair, trying to help the fluff situation that the brush made worse this morning. It needs to be cut really and Seb hates having it cut, it’s a two dad job to keep him calm and they haven’t had the time.

Seb nods and hands Rupert to Aaron, “To keep you safe.”

“Yeah, Rupert’s good at that.” Aaron smiles sadly for a minute before he brightens back up. They never hid the accident from Seb, knowing he would never really understand it until he was older, but he knows that a lot of Mummy’s family are in heaven because their car didn’t have a Rupert. Seb’s assertion, but Robert chose not to correct him. They have photos all around his room and he knows exactly who each of them is, including Lachlan, despite his prison term.

“Bye Dad.”

“Bye kiddo,” Aaron tells him as Robert starts walking him towards the gates. He’s trailing after them as his heart seizes like his hand around Rupert. “You have a good day, yeah?”

Robert has Seb in the equivalent of a bear hug, arm under his bum but the other tight on his back.

They reach the playground.

“Daddy, let go.” Seb pushes at Robert and Robert only lets him go as far as looking back at him.

“We’re not there yet,” Robert tells him and Seb wriggles. He can see other children now and he wants down, but Robert still hasn’t let go.

“Daddy,” The exasperation in one word makes Aaron want to laugh. Robert makes an equally exaggerated sigh and lets Seb down in front of him, hands on his shoulders. “Let go.”

Robert is at least trying to put Seb’s backpack on, but his excitement is making it near impossible. A bit of wrangling, and Seb is off, running to the first child he meets, a girl in a yellow raincoat that he asks if she likes dinosaurs. She does. Aaron suspects Happy is about to make friends too.

Robert is quiet next to him, arms tight on his own elbows as he watches his son go up to another child, the first girl with him. That boy likes dinosaurs too.

“He’s gonna have a cult by the end of the day, I tell ya. Forget the flying spaghetti monster, it’s Happy all the way.” Aaron jokes, but he feels what must be a fraction of the open wound of letting Seb out into the world for the first time must be like. “He’s gonna be alright, look, he’s already got two friends.”

Aaron wraps his arm around his husband’s shoulders and Robert leans into him with a sigh, “It’s just…we lose him from here. Next thing you know he’s a teenager and he hates us.”

“You’ve got at least ten years before that, Rob, and Seb could never hate you. You’re his dad.” Aaron presses a kiss to Robert’s temple, his hand sliding up to tilt his head towards him. “You’re his hero. So he’ll talk about nursery and his adventures, but he’ll tell you because you’re the person he wants to tell.”

“And you.”

Aaron nods, “And me.”

“I don’t want him to get bigger.”

No parent does. Aaron smiles though, “He’s gonna be brilliant, Robert. Don’t you wanna see that?”

That gets a smile out of Robert because deep down, all he wants is the best for Seb.

“Cult, you say?” He laughs, “Do I need to be worried? Call a solicitor?”

Seb looks back at them as the teacher is calling them over to go inside. He waves excitedly, “Bye Daddy, bye Dad!”

Robert waves and Seb stops. He turns and runs as fast as his little legs will take him back to Robert. He hugs Robert’s legs and rubs his face on Robert’s thighs.

“Oh, Seb, it’s gonna be alright. We’ll be back soon to get you.” Robert gets down on his knees, “We’re not going anywhere.”

“You’ll be here?” Seb’s voice is small and wobbly so Aaron gets down low too.

“Always, bud.” He kisses Seb’s forehead and Seb hugs Robert around his neck before Robert gives him a little nudge to go back to his teacher. A couple of the other kids have had the same problem so they all walk together in a somewhat morose line. The two children that Seb went up to when he first arrived take one of his hands each and they start walking towards the classroom, and this time, Seb doesn’t look back.

Aaron takes Robert’s hand and they stand there for a good ten minutes, just leaning into the fact that their son is at his first day of nursery.

Robert is the one who squeezes his hand and says, “Come on, with all this free time you can buy me a coffee.”

They pick the one from around the corner to the school, drink way too much, order several pastries and don’t move until it’s time to pick Seb up at home time.

Baby steps, right?

Chapter Text

Aaron is the one who is up late most nights. Robert goes up around eleven and sleeps the sleep of the dead till about six, so Aaron is pottering around upstairs at around one when he hears it.

A little whimper.

They leave Seb’s door open a crack and the light in the hallway on, but when Aaron gets closer to his room, he hears the soft pained cry again and he opens up the door.

“Seb?” He calls.

His duvet is all caught up in his legs and his little arms are covering his face as he breathes heavily and it breaks Aaron’s heart.

“Seb.” Aaron gets down on his knees and gently rubs his hand on his son’s belly. “Wake up, bud.”

Seb jolts up and automatically grabs Aaron’s arm as his face crumples up, his eyes wide and tears making them glassy in the light.

“Daddy?” Seb starts to cry as he tucks himself into Aaron’s chest.

“He’s just down the hall,” Aaron assumes he means Robert, Seb separates them into Daddy and Dad, but in his upset, he might have just called for Aaron and called him Daddy.

Aaron gets himself up and pulls Seb into his lap when he sits down on his little car bed, half sure he’s about to break it. Seb snuffles but his tears don’t ease, in fact, he silently hiccups against Aaron and that worries him more.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Aaron prods and there’s a tiny nod against his t-shirt. “Okay.”

Aaron makes the executive decision to pick Seb up, sits him on his hip, his head lolling on Aaron’s shoulder as he walks them down to his and Robert’s room.

He flicks on the big light so that Seb can see there’s nothing bad in here, but Robert grouses, torn from sleep by the door and the light.

“What–?” Robert looks at him blearily and sees Seb. He’s up like a shot, “Is he alright?”

“Had a nightmare.” Aaron brings Seb to Robert, leans down and hands him over and he goes quietly until he sees his dad and he starts crying again.

“Oh no, Seb,” Robert rocks Seb in his arms, Aaron sits beside them and rubs Seb’s back and that’s really when he starts to wail, all of his fear coming out with his sobs. “It’s alright, Dad and Daddy have you. You’re safe.”

Liv’s door opens, Aaron brushes his hand on the back Robert’s head and kisses his temple as he goes to meet Liv at her room.

“Everything alright?” Her voice is hoarse, but her concern is bright.

Aaron nods, squeezing her shoulder, “Yeah, Seb had a nightmare, go back to bed.”

“Alright.” The door closes and Aaron makes his way back.

Seb is on Robert’s lap, head low on his chest, arms curled up on Robert’s stomach. Aaron gets into bed next to them, his arm brushing Robert’s, his leg pressed up against his. Seb turns over so that he can see Aaron, and Aaron rests his hand on Seb’s back again, rubbing up and down to reassure him.

“Daddy was telling me about the prince.”

“The prince?” Aaron questions.

“He was sad because he didn’t have the other prince.” Seb’s eyes aren’t scared anymore. His little nose is red, but it’s not streaming.

Aaron nods conspiratorially, “So, what happened to the prince?”

“Daddy?”

Robert’s face flushes and Aaron’s hunch is right, this story is about them.

“Well, there were many obstacles for the princes. Some outside, like a dragon, and some inside, like fear.”

Seb perks up at that, “The prince was scared?”

Robert nods, “He used to have nightmares too.”

Aaron watches Robert’s face as he brushes his son’s hair back and sighs.

“He had a vast kingdom, but he wasn’t very kind. He was scared no one would love him.”

“But the other prince did.” Seb points out.

“He did. So much.”

“Did they kiss?”

Aaron snorts and Robert glares at him. Seb means did they share True Love’s Kiss.

“They did. But only when the prince was good. When he fought the monsters he was scared of.”

Seb looks down, but Robert tilts his chin up, “He didn’t do it alone. Every person who loved the prince came to help. They each gave him something he needed to fight. So, I’m going to give you this hug…”

Robert holds Seb tight in his arms in a big and dramatic way, “And Dad, he–”

Aaron gives Seb a kiss on his forehead.

“We’re always here to help you fight the monsters, alright.” Robert pulls Seb up so that he’s hugging around Robert’s neck and giving him a kiss on his cheek.

“I feel better, Daddy.”

“Good.” Robert smiles and Seb forces his way in between Aaron and Robert and puts his head on one of their pillows as he sets himself up for sleep. Robert throws his hands up at Aaron, but he just smiles, getting up to turn their light off, Robert leaves the lamp on, just in case, and Aaron folds the duvet over Seb when he gets under it himself.

Aaron leans over Seb and gives Robert a kiss before he lies back down and Robert hums against his lips and pulls away reluctantly.

“Did you have a nightmare then, Dad?” Seb asks him as he lies on his back.

“No, I just love Daddy very much and I want to keep him safe too.”

This appeases Seb and he falls off to sleep relatively quickly. Aaron thinks about moving him back to his bed, but he’s managed to stick his bum out at Robert, decreasing his bed space, but stayed at Aaron’s side, his tiny hand curled up in his t-shirt again.

Robert grumbles, faux-put out, “If he weren’t my son…”

Aaron smiles, “Shut up. You’d do it for any of them.”

“Such a Prince Charming.”

“You bet.”

Robert hums as he falls off to sleep himself and Aaron just listens to them both breathe, extending his ear in case he hears movement in Liv’s room. Slow and even breaths in the quiet of their room, Aaron’s family is safe. There are no nightmares to be had now.