Work Header

They've got you trapped: A Cruise Ship AU.

Chapter Text



4th of December 2014.


It’s a fluke that Aaron’s here; just minding his own business, standing on the starboard side of the ship and letting his thoughts wander. He has a winning scratch card to thank for the beautiful sea view he’s gazing at. His mum has convinced him that the sea air will do him good; he needs to get away from the garage and the constant cycle of work - pub - sleep. All four of them are on this holiday; Chas, Paddy, Aaron and Liv. It’s the get away that they all need.


The cruise began three nights ago, departing from Southampton and heading for the first port of call; Madeira. It’s December, yet the air is warm and it will only get hotter when the ship eventually makes it’s voyage towards the Caribbean sea. Christmas decorations are hung up all around the vessel and festive music plays subtly in the background at every venue. The real celebrations will begin much closer to Christmas day; no one is expected to put up with a month’s worth of festive quizzes, tribute acts and mince pies.


Aaron’s never seen anything like it; the closest comparison would be a five star hotel. The ship is full of restaurants - both food buffets and posh looking places that serve five or six different courses. He’s avoided the latter kind so far, afraid he won’t even be able to pronounce anything on the menu. There’s a gym, a casino, three swimming pools and even a Costa Coffee. All the food is included already but the drinks are extra; he reminds his mum of this every time she orders a glass of wine. There are a few small performance venues with bars, but they don’t hold a candle to The Arena where the main shows take place every night.


Everyone’s inside getting ready to watch tonight’s show and Aaron’s making the most of these few minutes he has to himself. The suit he’s wearing is itchy and a little tight on him but Chas had insisted that he got changed out of his usual hoodie and jeans combination. Paddy even lent him a shockingly ugly tie to make him feel even more out of place.


He’s seen enough bright pink blazers and psychedelic shirt prints tonight to fill his life’s quota. It’s like something out of a 1960s Bond movie. People think they can get away with wearing whatever they like on holiday; the day before he’d seen a middle aged man sitting in one of the bars wearing striped pyjamas.


Most of the guys he’s seen tonight are over fifty and they’re falling out of their suits. It’s embarrassing to watch. His mum had described this as a family holiday, but Aaron has yet to see one younger person who isn’t related to him. Maybe that’s how fate decided to win Paddy those tickets; he looks exactly like the cruise line’s typical customer.


Aaron leans forward, elbows rested on the bannister. He can’t move his eyes away from the ocean view, it’s intoxicating. He smiles to himself, taking in the calming aroma of the sea.


He’d spent the first few days of the cruise lazing around by the pool with his head phones in and refusing to budge. In the end his sister had dragged him into the jacuzzi, still with all his clothes on. Some busybody old woman had complained about the noise they were making, but Liv called her a miserable old cow and that seemed to scare her off. All four of them had burst into a fit of laughter after that, Aaron starting a water fight and Paddy complaining about his eyes stinging from too much sun cream. That had only made Chas laugh harder and throw a sun hat at him.


Aaron doesn’t know where he’d be without his newly formed immediate family.


The sea roars at him as he takes in a deep breath, eyes watching the sun set in front of him. It’s almost seven thirty and he really should get moving; his mum’s saved him a seat for the show. His mental health is doing ok, but it could be better. Moments like this help him stay calm and live in the moment.


The first couple of days of the cruise have been uneventful for Robert; show rehearsals in the mornings and real performances in the evenings. In between he’s done nothing but eat and sleep; Chrissie’s been too busy discussing the future of White Cruises with her father. When she comes back to their cabin she goes straight to sleep without saying goodnight. He’s stopped bothering to ask what he’s done wrong - he’ll find out eventually. It never takes her long to lash out with her tongue, but thankfully Lawrence is usually there to back him up; Robert’s trained his future father in law well.


There’s something intriguing about the guy in the blue suit; even if the tie he’s wearing is hideous. Robert’s snuck out onto the top deck for some fresh air, having had no idea he’d find such a pleasant distraction.


The guys’ got a laddish look to him; seems the sort you’d see getting rowdy in the pub long before closing time. Maybe he’s a builder, an electrician or a mechanic. He can certainly imagine him in the overalls. He definitely knows a grease monkey when he sees one. Hell, he use to be one. Yep, he’s got it already - feels like he knows this man inside out from a single glance at his stern face and rough, ready demeanour. He wonders how someone in his position could afford to go on a cruise as expensive as this one. Maybe he’s guessed wrong, but now there’s an attractive image in his mind that he can’t shake off; the stranger pinning him up against the wall in the heat of anger and -


His phone beeps with a text from Chrissie. He doesn’t read it but instead shields his face with his phone, continuing to watch the man from a distance. It’s scary how much practice he’s already had at pretending. He considers himself a pro by now.


Ever since his father told him to leave Emmerdale and never come back, he’s been trying to be the son that would have made him proud. He’s got the girl, the job, the success…and he’s working on the happiness. Lawrence has been the key to all that he’s wanted. He tries not to think about how easy it’s been to con the gullible old man. If he starts to feel guilty he’ll remember that he doesn’t deserve the life he’s living. His father would be so ashamed of him; he’s still a scared little boy who runs away from his problems and takes his anger out on other people.


He’s checking out the guy’s side profile, telling himself that there’s no harm in looking; Chrissie’s the woman he loves and he’s going to marry her. He doesn’t even mind if she glances at another bloke every now and then. At the end of the day, he’s the only one that can satisfy her. No matter how many times Lawrence tries to wreck it, their relationship will work; he’ll make it work. They’re a perfect fit; he’s the prince charming and she’s the princess. His designer clothes and expensive watch leave no trace of the young farmer’s son that he use to be. No one would even consider that he was once Chrissie’s Cinderella, waiting in the sidelines for a hint of approval from her father.


Lawrence may be the cruise director, but Robert’s a star performer. He’s the one the passengers are talking about; the young man with the voice of an angel and the sex appeal of James Dean. It’s only the third night and he’s already overheard women gushing about him at the breakfast buffet. It’s boosted Chrissie’s self esteem as well, so everyone’s a winner. He’s risen from nothing, gotten everything he’s wanted and more. Right now he’s set his sights on the only man on this deck - so he’s gonna talk to him. He can, so why shouldn’t he?


He takes a chance, strolling across deck in the direction of the stranger. It’s only then that he notices how lost the guy looks, just staring out at the sea like it has all the answers. At the same time, he still seems like one of those hot and heavy types that could easily punch Robert in the face.


Words tumble out of Robert’s mouth before he can stop them, motivated by paranoia that the guy will notice him staring.  “You’ve picked a good day for it.”


Aaron frowns, assuming he’s being addressed but not completely sure. “What?” he questions as he turns away from the horizon and settles his gaze on a man with golden wind swept hair. He can’t stop a smile from creeping onto his face as he takes in the piecing eyes of the stranger. Finally, someone else in their twenties. The evening light is generous enough to highlight a devilish grin that could find a way to melt Aaron in two.


The guy’s handsome - movie star handsome but boy does he know it. Arrogance is radiating off of him like a bad smell and he’s barely even glanced Aaron’s way. It’s in the way that he walks, oozing confidence with every stride.


The man has joined him by the bannister and Aaron has to roll his eyes. He’s wearing a maroon suit that he really shouldn’t be able to pull it off but he’s so fucking charming that it works.


“It’s a beautiful view, but not worth killing yourself over.”   


That comment really should piss Aaron off, considering how on the mark it is. He should at least be annoyed that the guys’ snapped him out of his generally peaceful state of mind - or that he seems like a judgemental dick who loves to make snide remarks. Aaron wonders how this muppet would react if he actually did jump over board.


“I’m Robert by the way - Robert Sugden


Aaron actually snorts at him. He’s known enough people like Robert in his lifetime and he has no intention of getting mixed up with anyone like that again. It figures that the only other young guy on the cruise is as fake as they come; he might as well still be the only one.


I don’t have time for this crap, Aaron decides as he turns, ready to walk back up the deck. “I’m about to sit through an hour of cheesy love songs, with my mum insisting we sit in the front row” he mumbles, more to himself than to Robert. Yet when he glances back at him, the prick seems to be hanging off his every word.


“Likes going on stage, does she?”


“Life and soul of the party, if she’s drunk enough.”


Robert hesitates for a moment, testing the waters - “Not seen any of the shows yet?”


“We’ve mostly been in the karaoke bar so far, and the casino.”


“Oh…you can carry a tune then?”


Aaron shrugs, “Look mate, I better be going.”


Robert doesn’t miss the passive aggressive tone in his new friend’s voice. Part of him is disappointed; he wants to get along with someone other than the girls who want to jump his bones. All the men around him are pompous idiots like Lawrence. “Seems to me like you’d rather top yourself than listen to a bunch of theatre school snobs singing rat pack tributes” he reasons bitterly. 


He shrugs the subject off; nothing this guy says is going to get to him, “Shouldn’t they be singing Christmas tunes by now?”


Robert’s making a move, brushing past the other man to reach the doorway to the performance arena. He takes the opportunity to take one last look at how the guy looks in a suit. “Would you really want a whole month of Christmas themed shows? We’ve gotta build up to it.”


Aaron frowns, “We?”


He smiles like he has a secret, “Have a good night.”


“Yeah, whatever” Aaron mutters, annoyed by how distracted Robert has made him. He finds it hard to understand how people can joke about suicide, even without knowing what he’s been through.  The fact that this guy can be so ignorant but yet be so good looking and smug is really pissing him off; he really deserves a punch in the face.


He forces himself to snap out of it a few seconds later and heads into The Arena.


As soon as his mum sees him, she’s nagging him to sit down with her in the front row. Everyone knows they’re the worst seats in the house for two reasons.


Firstly, you’re sat so close that you need to arch your neck to look up and watch properly. Aaron’s known that enough already from last minute (drink inspired) trips to Hotten cinema with Adam. He usually ends up passed out before the inevitable plot twist anyway.


Second and most importantly - Chas is insistent that she’ll be playing one of the (not so reluctant) victims to be pulled up on stage.


Aaron glances at the programme for the show and sees Robert’s face beaming at him from the ‘starring’ page.


He recognises the name and knows he’s in trouble.



The show’s due to start at any moment. Robert’s sat backstage nursing a cup of coffee and watching the dancers do their warm up routines. He really should be doing some vocal exercises himself, but it’s not expected of him anymore. He’s been performing on and off for about a year now. The theatre company are pretty use to him turning up at the last minute and running onto the stage, only to belt out a blinding musical number with little effort required.


His phone vibrates; it’s a text from Chrissie letting him know that she’s not in the audience tonight. All it says is Good Luck C X but what she really means is behave yourself; don’t prove my dad right. The message only reminds him that the Whites still don’t trust him, even after all the time and energy he’s put into trying to impress them. He really doesn’t understand why not; they don’t even know about what happened with Rebecca.


They never will.


“Robert! We’re up” calls the blonde bimbo he’s always had a love and hate relationship with.  Bex has become an unnecessary complication following a drunken embrace after a show, many months ago now. Their friendship is rocky now at the best of times; an awkward glance shared way too often. It doesn’t help that their audiences always claim they have heaps of sexual tension. Robert has to laugh; if only their guests had witnessed that one stupid fumble.


He’d been drunk - but not too drunk. He’d seen a guy who’d reminded him of Connor and he hated himself for having those thoughts again. Bex had been there and more than willing. They’d kissed and she’d unbuttoned his trousers but thankfully Chrissie had chosen that moment to text him. Realisation had kicked in and Bex hadn’t been able to look him in the eyes since. He hadn’t expected her to feel guilty over something so stupid, but apparently she did care about her sister’s happiness. Plus there’s the fact that Whites Cruises has a reputation to maintain and that family can’t afford a scandal. 


The Arena is packed with guests. Fairy lights surround the stage and a huge Christmas tree stands in the corner but it shouldn't take the spotlight away from the performers. A loud voice announces Rob & Bex as the next act and suddenly the James Bond theme tune is blaring through the speakers. The curtains rise up slowly and the lights gently highlight the silhouette of a man’s side profile. Wearing a crisp tuxedo, facing away from the audience and holding a gun; it’s Mr Bond himself.


Aaron’s only just managed to move his gaze away from Robert’s face on the programme. It all makes sense now, why this guy was acting like such a self righteous prick; he’s one of the Whites (or as good as). He’s the guy his mum had been raving about wanting to see, but they’d been spending too long at dinner and haven’t managed to get to his show on time yet.


He can’t even see his face yet but Aaron just knows that it’s Robert on stage and his palms are sweating as they grip the paper in his hand. There’s no way he can sit through this, faced with that smirk for the next half an hour. Get a grip Aaron, you literally just met him and it’s not like you ever have to speak to him again.


But suddenly the spotlight is on Robert’s face and an 80s drum beat kicks in as he glides to the front of the stage. He stands still, fixes his bow tie and spies on the audience like he’s the hunter and they are all his prey. Aaron has to crank his neck to be able to see anything other than the lower half of Robert’s body.


He’s thankful for the distraction a moment later when Chas taps him on the shoulder and shouts in his ear, “Duran Duran!”


“I know mum-“ he begins, but then his thoughts are interrupted as he hears Robert sing.


His breath catches in his throat and he almost jumps out of his seat. Robert is suddenly right in front of him. He’s directly in his line of vision, having knelt so they are at eye level with each other. He’s so close that Aaron has no idea how to react.


Meeting you with a view to a kill

Face to face in secret places, feel the chill


Those eyes are staring back at him like he’s the only thing that matters. He shifts in his seat, distracted by the superficial sight and sound of Robert Sugden.


“He’s gorgeous ain’t he?” Chas smiles.


He shrugs helplessly and watches as Liv screws her face up in disgust. Paddy’s nudging Chas with his elbow but she just laughs.


“He’s alright” Aaron decides, just as Robert locks eyes with him again. There’s no harm in enjoying a bit of meaningless eye contact. He’s just recognising him from outside, that’s all there is to it.


Just before the chorus kicks in, Aaron watches a woman strut confidently onto the stage. Robert jumps back up onto his feet and meets her in a loving embrace. He has to roll his eyes then; why is everything so…straight? He has his hands all over her. Does she really need to have her legs on display like that? The song’s not even about love. Aaron shakes his head to try and snap himself out of these bitter thoughts. Shows are suppose to be enjoyable.


He's really enjoying looking at Robert in that tux.


He needs to separate the Robert on deck from the Robert on stage. This is a performance and he’s going to enjoy the show while he still can. There’s no doubt that Robert’s as straight as they come; not that Aaron would stope that low. The dancing with the girl seems so intimate; the rumours are probably true. Yet…there’s something about him. It’s an innocent thought; he’s just curious.


There’s no harm in letting his gaze linger over the other man’s body as he moves across the stage. He can, so why shouldn’t he?


Bex’s outfit is covered in red sequins, the sparkle of her dress aiming to outdo the apparent flirtatious glint in Robert’s eyes. Her lose hair runs wild over her shoulders and every now and then Robert notices how appealing she can be. Some people are just pleasing to look at and Bex is definitely not boring, but she’s no model either. The look she’s giving him could be mistaken for desire, but she’s just good at playing her part.


Dance into the fire

That fatal kiss is all we need


It’s passionless - the way that he takes her into his arms and sings to her as if he cares. No one can see close enough to realise that his eyes appear void of emotion. There are no lust or love filled glances between them. There’s no laughter like there use to be. Before they could get along and joke around but now their dances are more of a chore. Robert doesn’t enjoy performing the way that he use to. The audience doesn’t seem to notice though, so he kids himself that it doesn’t matter. He’s got a job to do so he does it on autopilot. 


Dance into the fire

To fatal sounds of broken dreams


He’s dancing with Rebecca; the girl he’s suppose to be in love with. It’s all on the down low, apparently. He’s actually engaged to Chrissie White, Rebecca’s sister and the daughter of Lawrence White the cruise director. It’s a massive scandal and for once Aaron’s glad he listened to his mum’s gossip.


Chas is humming to herself, then she even begins to sing along as Robert sings.


Dance into the fire

That fatal kiss is all we need

Dance into the fire


His hands are on Rebecca’s hips and Aaron really couldn’t care less if something’s going on between them. And yet…he’s judging him. It’s hard not to after remembering what he’s heard.


He closes his eyes and listens to Robert sing; that’s the reason they’re here. Even Liv had seemed excited to know what all the fuss was about. Robert’s voice caresses the music like a lover’s touch and Aaron lets himself relax into the feeling of it.


Robert and Rebecca perform for half an hour, before the next show starts. It follows the journey of a small time super hero who moves to New York to make a big name of herself. Aaron doesn’t find it half as interesting as Robert’s segment. It seems to go on forever, before the crowd slowly make their way out of The Arena.


Robert’s mumbling ‘thank you’ and nodding at guests praising his singing and attempts at dancing. Even he’ll admit to himself that Bex is the one that moves with the grace of an angel. He just stands there looking pretty and sways a bit while he sings a pleasant tune.


The family from the first row are the very last people to stagger out of the venue. The mum has probably had a few too many drinks but she seems to be having a good time. The bald guy looks a little grumpy and the teenage girl looks bored. Then there’s the stranger he recognised from outside. Not that it took much - he had told him he’d be in the front row.


He’d decided soon after his first song that he needed to acknowledge him. Even if all he heard from him was one more word; he had to put a name to the face he’d been distracted by for his whole show. There’s something magnetising about the other man and as much as it makes Robert feel uneasy, he can’t help but feel a flicker of attraction spark in his chest. They’ve barely spoken to each other and what they have said has been hardly civil - but maybe they don’t need to speak at all. 


“Did you enjoy it?” Robert asks, completely ignoring any attention he’s receiving from anyone else. His thoughts are on one person alone in this moment and to his surprise, the smile he receives in return seems genuine.


“..I did” Aaron manages to utter, caught off guard by the question. He’s too distracted by Robert leaning against the stage door, hands deep in his pockets and that fucking smirk on his face.


Normally it wouldn’t affect Aaron this way but maybe being away from home is changing his attitude towards men. He realises then that he hasn’t stopped smiling since he followed Robert in from out on deck. The guy is a complete prick and it frustrates Aaron that his charm is working on him. It’s like he’s a fool and the ocean’s captured his heart. He needs to get away before he says something stupid.


“Good show. Not really my style though, I probably won’t be back…”


Despite the smile plastered on his face and the pleasant tone of voice, the words seem harsh and he regrets them straight away.


Thankfully Paddy is his saving grace, “Don’t listen to Aaron, you were brilliant! We’ll see you both tomorrow night!”


It’s only then Aaron registers that Rebecca’s been beside Robert this whole time. She makes eye contact with him and he doesn’t know what to say, so he raises his hand and then gives her a dorky thumbs up. She smiles but he knows it’s fake; he doesn't mind.


He glances at Robert once more and he must be imagining things because he swears the other man winks at him before he turns to leave.

Chapter Text

5th of December 2014.


It is the ship’s last day at Sea before it reaches a port. Tomorrow morning everyone will arrive in Maderia and if Robert’s lucky he might have time for a short walk on the beach. Not that it’s really a change of scenery - he’s already been on this cruise’s route twice before. He feels like a touring music artist in that regard - all the cities blend into each other and nowhere really feels like home.



It wouldn’t be so bad if he was at least enjoying the company he was keeping, but his fiancee seems even busier than he is. He only regularly sees her for an hour in the morning, before they’re both thrown into their busy schedules working for White Cruises. He’s on the entertainment team and Chrissie’s the spa manager; they never work side by side.



On the rare occasion that they have time to go to dinner together, Robert is the perfect gentleman and treats her like a princess. He laughs at her jokes, smirks and pokes his tongue between his lips when she teases him. Whenever he can, he lets everyone know that Chrissie is the one that he’s marrying, not her aimless little sister. The dancer never really stood a chance with him - no matter how many times she protests that he wasn’t that drunk. At least she seems to have got it through her skull now that he’s not interested.



He often goes to sleep alone but at least he wakes up to find Chrissie smiling beside him. Sometimes they skip breakfast to make the most of the little time they have together.



Every day begins the same.; food and shower (sweet talk Chrissie), rehearsal (sweet talk…more like put up with Bex), sometimes a meeting (sweet talk Lawrence).



By late afternoon he’s always wasting whatever free time he’s got by watching shit TV in his cabin. The thrill of living and performing on a ship has long gone; he’s  at the point now that he’s seen far too many couples posing at the bow and shouting ‘I’m the king of the world!” He’s been through so many emergency drills that he’d rather drown than go through the tedious safety regulations again.




Robert’s in his dressing room before rehearsal, feet resting on a stool as he stares into the mirror. It’s a cramped little space really, but it’s his; Sean Connery poster on the door, desk with draws packed with snacks, phone numbers and fan mail.



Robert Sugden has fan mail and most of the time it’s a blessing; It’s certainly done wonders for his ego. The negative letters go straight into the bin, often without him having read them. That’s one thing that Bex has been good for; laughing at any insults hurled at them and assuring him that they’re an absolute dream team. Although considering their history, her motives are questionable.



“Sounds good,” - he’s nodding, only half listening but he gets the gist of what Barbie’s saying. She gives him a smile that seems nervous, but he can never tell with her. Sometimes the lies slip from her lips like the words of a song. I’d never want a guy like Robert. At other times, she’s fidgeting and laughing like the picture of innocence.



Maybe he’ll never know the real Rebecca White.



He doesn’t care.



There’s no harm in giving it a try, he decides - maybe after one performance she’ll decide it’s not for her and back down. The White sisters think they can do anything.



Rebecca’s voice isn’t terrible by any means, it’s just not particularly pleasant to listen to. Lawrence agrees with him; they’ve had that private conversation before. It’s not the first time she’s suggested singing in the show but Robert’s decided to take a little risk; at least she’ll make him sound twice as good. 



Plus he’s kind of distracted the whole time Bex is speaking to him about it; busy hoping Aaron will be in the audience again tonight, despite saying the show ‘wasn’t his thing’ the day before.



His meeting with Lawrence seems to last forever and at dinner he can’t seem to stomach more than a few mouthfuls of soup. He’s eating alone in the crew’s private restaurant, feet spread out under the table and his chin rested on his palm.



It’s finally dawned on him what a stupid decision he’s made.



He bangs his fist on the table and doesn’t care when everyone stares.



Bex isn’t there. She’s probably still rehearsing her song. He’s agreed to let her sing and it’s pathetic how much he’s regretting making that choice and even convincing Lawrence it was a good idea. He’s letting himself be whisked away by thoughts of a handsome stranger he shouldn’t have any interest in seeing again.



He can’t keep ignoring this feeling.



After dinner he walks back to his empty cabin but his mind is racing with impulses that he must control. He wanders into the shower as if he’s sleepwalking. Under the warm spray, Robert lets his thoughts settle on his latest fixation.



It’s now or never. Do or die. Get him out of your system Sugden.



Eyes closed, he imagines slowly stripping his lover out of that midnight blue suit; toying with the tie and caressing his neck. In his mind’s eye, he’s greeted with that shy smile Aaron gave him last night, followed by a longing look in his eyes for power that Robert won’t allow him. Aaron is the name of the man who’s reawakened desires he’s fought so hard to forget about.



As long as Robert remains in control, he’ll be fine. The best way to get rid of this attraction is by admitting it to himself. If he plays out the fantasy in his head, he’s sure to get bored by the reality of the situation and quickly move on. That’s the plan that’s forming in his mind; the excuse he gives himself as he takes his hardening cock into the palm of his hand.



He imagines kissing Aaron, slowly; exploring the feel of him against his lips. He longs to feel that stubble brush against his cheek, heavy breathing in his ear that turns into a gasp for more.  Then he’s pushing the other man down onto the ground, towering above and roughly pulling his face to between his legs.



“Suck me” he whispers, stroking his length faster as pre cum forms at the head. He’s heavy and aching in his hand, way too desperate than he should be. The stranger’s hanging off every word he says, so eager to please him and welcoming Robert’s hand to the back of head, where it pulls on hair roughly.



For a second he wonders what Aaron would be saying if his mouth wasn’t occupied; would he form words or just moan along in agreement. How does he like to be touched, teased? What really gets him off? He loves that everything about him is a mystery, there’s so much about him to discover.



Robert wants to watch him hit breaking point and hear him moaning his name. He wonders how Aaron likes to be fucked, what makes his balls tingle and how he looks when he comes. He imagines how he’d react to Robert grabbing him by the hand, dragging him into his dressing room and then fucking him hard up against the door.



There’s lube somewhere amongst all that stuff he keeps under his desk. It would be easy, to make this a reality. All he needs is a sign from Aaron and a promise that it’ll stay between them.



Fuck. That’s not gonna happen. He's into Bex. He gave her that stupid little thumbs up.



Distract yourself.



But that voice in his head is growling “Fuck me Robertand it’s driving him insane.



He wants to feel Aaron’s muscles tightening around him as he slams into him over and over, fingers digging into flesh and forehead dampening with sweat.



When he comes, Aaron’s name slips from his lips like a silent prayer.





“Olivia!” Chas warns, but then she’s laughing as everyone stops to glare over at their table. The games room is packed with pensioners, all with their eyes glued to the bingo slips in front of them.



They’ve played three games already and Liv’s getting impatient with the silence.  “But i’m bored” she complains, screwing up the magazine she has in her hands. Aaron’s given her the entertainment guide and she’s been circling things like it’s the Christmas TV guide. Apparently it isn't enough of a distraction. 



Someone shouts bingo and Paddy watches Chas’s smile fall. “There’s always next time.”



“Count me out” Aaron sniggers before taking a sip of his pint. It’s not so bad really. Bingo was one of the more appealing options on the entertainment guide - it sure beats ‘how to look ten years younger’ and ‘juggling for beginners’



Who the hell comes up with this stuff? Probably the same guy who hired Robert.



“Aaron! Look what’s in the cinema tonight!” his sister gasps with excitement and for a moment he feels like he can’t keep up with her moods. He’s beginning to feel more like a parent than a brother. Maybe it’s just the feeling of being trapped on a boat together. There’s nowhere he can be alone, not really. If he’s not surrounded by his family, he’s being hounded by old women asking to dance with him. He thinks back to that peaceful spot he’d found out on desk - how relaxed he’d felt until he’d been rudely interrupted.



Liv’s throwing the guide in his face and he almost spills his beer on it. He glances at the listings and then smiles, “X-Men? Sure, alright. As long as it’s after the show.”



“Oh yeah, we can’t miss Rob & Bex” Paddy agrees.



People are leaving the games room now, heading to the bar or the dining hall. It’s coming up to 6pm and Aaron’s already heard a couple gossip about the ‘beautiful couple’ on again at The Arena tonight.



The rumour is that Rebecca’s got the voice of an angel.



Aaron hasn’t actually heard her speak yet, just given her an awkward thumbs up after last night’s performance. He’d felt stupidly guilty for not paying attention to her and just beaming at Robert the whole time. It didn’t make any sense for him to be jealous. That man doesn’t mean anything to him. Yet the whole time the pair of them had been dancing, Aaron had wished that it was him in 007’s arms instead. This holiday was making him so damn soft.



“He wasn’t that good” Liv shrugs and Aaron notices how her eyes dart around like she’s searching the room for something. “Can’t we go to karaoke again or something?”



There’s a lump in Aaron’s throat and he wants to defend Robert, admit that he wants to see this show tonight. It’s more than a want - he craves him. He’s already seen that man in a maroon suit and a tux, it’s like he’s being spoilt already but he’s wondering what else Robert wears, what he sings and what he feels as his fingers brush over Rebecca’s waist. No, not Rebecca’s his.



“No! I love the show. I’m not missing it!” Chas announces and Aaron breathes a sigh of relief.



He won’t admit it but he's been looking forward to the show all day. There’s something about the way Robert demands attention when he’s on stage. It doesn’t seem arrogant when he’s just playing a character as part of the show. It’s just like he’s doing what he’s been destined to do and every move he makes has Aaron in a trance.



At dinner he goes mad at the buffet, helps himself to as much as he can handle and eats it all too quickly. He’s looking at the guide again, waving a pen over the items Liv’s circled. He’s tapping his folk against his plate with his other hand, impatient to get moving.



"Stop the tapping!" Liv groans in annoyance, her eyes darting back and forth between the folk and the pen. "You're not in a band!"



“Don’t you wanna sit in the front again?” he asks his mum innocently when she asks why he’s in such a rush. They have to get to The Area early if they want to get the best seats, just like Chas had done the night before.



“You loved it last night, being up close and personal with that Robert bloke” he reasons and he’s aiming for casual and teasing but it must come out more like a plea.



Chas recognises the high-pitched tone to his voice - it's the same as when he really wants something but he’s too afraid to ask.



Aaron realises then that he’s been circling the picture of Robert’s face by the description of his show. There, highlighted in red pen - is the reason why he wants to attend tonight’s show.



Liv, Paddy and Chas are all sharing a knowing look and suddenly Aaron feels incredibly outnumbered.




Tonight’s show itself is enjoyable up until the point when Rebecca starts singing. He can tell that Robert’s feeling nervous and the company are taking a risk in letting her showcase a talent other than dancing. That man’s face is so expressive and for a moment Aaron wonders what he looks like when he’s in the heat of pleasure.



It’s a welcome distraction from that woman’s attempt at Shania Twain’s That Don’t Impress Me Much. Although Aaron does appreciate the irony of the song choice given what he knows about the Whites thus far.



The performance gets a few laughs and Robert even gets a few whistlers as he plays the part of the perfect man. There’s a line about the guy having a mirror in his pocket, at which point he pulls out the prop and showcases his vanity. This is the bloke he’s heard all about; the lady’s man who won’t let a hair on his head fall out of place. Maybe this is a hint of Robert’s sense of humour; something more tasteful than jokes about suicide.



Just enjoy watching him and don’t think too much. He decides that he isn’t a fan of Robert in a floral shirt but then he gets distracted thinking about what’s underneath it.



After the show Aaron nods in Rebecca’s direction and tells her “Good job”



He sees that Robert’s holding back a laugh, so he smiles at him and hesitates over what to say-



“Come on Aaron, we’ll miss the film!” Liv protests, eager to head to the cinema for a late night showing of X-Men. She grabs Aaron by the hand and pulls him away from Rebecca, only to cause him to brush shoulders with Robert.



“Sorry - uh sorry” Aaron mumbles but Robert doesn’t even flinch. “No problem, Aaron” he replies.




The name still sounds foreign on his tongue, but Robert hopes he gets use to saying it. This Aaron seems so nervous compared to the one that he saw outside the night before - all snarky and mysterious. People are more complicated than they seem, he reminds himself as he watches the family walk away.



His dad’s voice is in his head whispering, you’re no son of mine. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and texts Chrissie that he loves her.



Within the hour he’s out on deck holding her hand, wordlessly rubbing her engagement ring. Lawrence has let them have a couple of hours to themselves. His fiancee is wearing a beautiful blue dress that would put Bex’s dance outfit to shame. It’s sophisticated but Lawrence thinks it’s slutty; but what does he know about women?



Robert’s slipped on a blue suit jacket over his floral shirt to keep out the chill. He slips his hands around Chrissie’s waist as they stand together staring out to sea. They’re in the same place Aaron had been the day before, only the sky’s pitch black now and the sea’s more rough. The winds picked up, making harsh noises as it slams the nearest door, but it’s more comforting than off-putting. He doesn’t know what to say to Chrissie, so he’s thankful there isn’t an awkward silence.



After a while he’s convinced she’s about to say something, but he doesn’t want to hear it so he chooses that moment to kiss her. It’s late and this part of the ship is secluded, so he decides to really go to town with it; pulling her close to him and kissing her passionately.



He only pulls away when he hears laughter. “Are you tryin’ to eat her face or something?” Liv’s frowning in disgust but then Aaron’s poking her on the shoulder and hiding his face in his suit jacket. “Don’t be rude Liv!”



Robert’s stunned for a moment after the interruption. It feels like two world are colliding that should never even know about each other. “Where the hell did you come from, were you spying on us?”  he demands, distracted by the thought that Aaron has probably just seen him kissing his fiancee.



Weren’t they suppose to be watching a film or something?  “We’re having a private moment here!”



Chrissie watches him jump from one to one hundred on the anger scale. He looks completely flustered and it’s so rare for him to lose his composure now, she wonders if everything’s ok. No - there’s no need to blow things out of proportion. He’s probably just upset because they haven’t had much time to be alone together recently. She puts a protective hand on his chest and then gives Aaron a tight smile, “It’s ok, there’s no harm done.”



Liv’s quick to reply for Aaron, “Sorry your majesty, i’ll stick to my end of the ship. Didn’t know a family could be snobbier than that one from Titanic but you guys make me sick.”



“What have I ever done to you?” Robert protests, his face the picture of innocence. He looks at Aaron, who can’t seem to move his gaze away from the floor.



The young girl seems so angry and he wonders what’s provoked her. It’s certainly not anything that him or the Whites have done. Maybe Aaron’s not the family man that he seems to be.



She’s firing the words at him like he’s ruined her life, “Swanning around like you own the place just cause you can carry a tune; it doesn’t mean you can stick your tongue down her throat for everyone to see. Anyway, everyone knows you’re screwing Re-“



"That's enough" Aaron mumbles,  grabbing his sister’s hand and pulling her towards the door back inside. "I'm sorry...she just stormed out here when she saw you..."



His words are soft and going by the look of horror on his face, Robert believes that Aaron is being genuine. Yet he can't help but feel irrationally angry about the guy from his shower fantasy storming in on him and his soon-to-be-wife.



"If anyone's thinking of screwing Rebecca, it's probably you!" he blurts out, his cheeks feeling hot as Aaron stares at him in shock. 



He knows what the girl was about to say and he doesn't feel threatened for one minute - not by a moody teenager who probably just has a crush on him.  His fiancee's heard enough of the rumours about him and Bex but she's never for a moment believed any of it. She's in too deep and she has too much to lose. 



But he's lashed out anyway because that's what he does and Aaron's stormed off, dragging the young girl behind him.




Chrissie takes hold of his hand and whispers "I love you"



He feels like he's going to be sick. 




Chapter Text

6th of December 2014.



Aaron loves the dress code the ship has in the mornings; anyone can turn up looking like death and it’s just a sign of a good night’s drinking. You’d think he was on a cruise with a load of 20 somethings going to Ibiza. He wishes he could have gone on a lads trip with Adam. Part of him still feels guilty that he’s gonna miss his mate’s welcome home party when he gets out of prison in a couple of weeks. It’s gonna be fun telling him all about these old guys getting totally smashed. He’s never seen anything like it - old geezers dressed in shorts and tight fitted t-shirts they’ve thrown on this morning in a rush to get some kind of food inside them.


He feels comfortable in his black hoodie and jeans. Liv’s dressed like a younger version of him and an old lady’s already asked if she’s his daughter. He laughed about it but then realised that would make him over thirty and practically ancient.


“Orange juice tastes like puke” Liv complains. She’s filled her breakfast tray with muffins, toast and weird looking croissants. Aaron’s just grabbed a couple of slices of toast and made himself a cuppa. Chas and Paddy are still in the queue for food, giggling to each other like a couple of teenagers. Aaron’s thankful that Liv’s distracting him.


“It’s a five star cruise and you’re still finding something to complain about? There was nothing wrong with the cinema last night either. We shouldn’t have left the film.”


“The screen was too dark! Couldn’t even see Cyclops and he’s basically just a bright red beam of light!”


He wants to ask her Are we gonna talk about why you’re so angry? Is it something i’ve done? How can I help you? But they’re so alike that he knows if he brings it up she’ll just yell at him and then storm off. He’d much rather deal with her being passive aggressive and accept her opinions as facts. He doesn’t want to think about Robert and Chrissie last night.


“Ok cinema’s a no go. We could try karaoke again? I still wanna hear you try that Little Mix track.”


“Only if you sing it’s raining men.”


He rolls his eyes. “Nah, that’s definitely a song for mum.”





The ship has arrived in Madeira.  Liv’s happy she gets to finally get off the boat and check out the new sights, but she’s soon complaining that it’s way too hot. The family spend a while on the beach and Paddy convinces Aaron to swim in the sea while Chas sits plating Liv’s hair for her.


No one mentions Robert.


The girls do a bit of shopping in the afternoon and Aaron returns to the ship with his arms full of shopping bags. His hair is still damp and his grey tops’ clinging to him but at least he’s getting out of the sun now. They’re only six days into the holiday and Paddy’s already got sun burnt; no prizes for guessing where. Maybe they should have prepared for this hot Christmas a little better.


They’ve only just made it back to the ship in time for departure, thanks to Aaron’s watch stopping. It’s 5pm. The others are racing ahead, going straight to the buffet while Aaron takes their luxuries to the cabin. The sooner he dumps the stuff, the faster the evening will arrive and it’ll be time for the show again. He hates that he’s still looking forward to seeing that idiot’s face, even after what happened last night.


Robert’s outburst had caught him off guard; yeah, the guy’s a dick but who could know he had that much anger inside of him? The spite on his face had sent shivers down the young man’s spine. It seemed to come out of nowhere. His body language and tone of voice had been confusing enough, but that was nothing compared to his words. It’s laughable really - the fact that Robert had accused him of being interested in Rebecca.


Aaron doesn’t announce his sexuality everywhere he goes, so he can’t blame him for thinking he’s straight. After all, most people are. Maybe Robert’s just trying to protect his affair and he’s desperately pointing the finger in another direction. It’s sleazy and should be expected from someone like him but it still makes Aaron angry. 




Robert’s on his way to a meeting with Lawrence, Costa cup in hand as he hurries down the corridor to the main stairwell. They’ve got a lot to discuss. The future of Rebecca singing in the show is currently a question mark, there are Christmas preparations to make and assistants to train. He wishes he’d had time to at least have a stroll onto the shore, but he’s just too busy right now.


He’s been trying to forget about the scene he made last night; Chrissie already has. Nothing is ever his fault. People are just jealous of the White family and will say anything to provoke a reaction - at least that’s what his fiancee says.


His thoughts drift to the looks he’s been giving Aaron; not out on deck but during his shows. He’s surprised the other man hasn’t seemed to notice. He’s in the front row - surely it’s obvious that he’s been staring at him?


He must be too distracted watching Rebecca dance. Her legs can be a real distraction - he’s overheard guests talking about her in the bars. Aaron’s big give away is how nervous he is when he compliments her after every show. On the first night he’d actually given her a thumbs up. It was strangely endearing and a clear indication that he fancies her. Robert feels like he should tell him that she’s really not worth the bother. Then he remembers and the nauseous feeling returns to the pit of his stomach.






The two men are coming from different directions but heading for the same stairwell; the inevitable happens. Aaron’s on the floor surrounded by shopping bags. Robert’s flailing around, cursing and staring down in disbelief at the massive coffee stain on his white shirt. The look on his face is a picture - it’s as if he’s been personally attacked. Then he’s glaring down at Aaron. “You” he spits out as if he’s facing his worst enemy.


Aaron slowly gets up on his feet, staring at the other man wordlessly. Sure he’d been carrying too much, but this guy had been running with a hot cup of coffee. They were both at fault here. He’s blinking and suddenly Robert has his shirt off.


“…floral’s not really your thing anyway” he mumbles, making a conscience effort to look Robert in the eyes. This is the most cliche moment he’s experienced in his life, taken right out of one of those hollywood rom coms he cringes at.


“What would you know about me?” Robert frowns as he barges past him, holding the shirt in front of him. The flowers are drowned in coffee.


Aaron reaches a hand out to stop him, awkwardly grasping at his bare shoulder. “Wait…come on, let me grab you a shirt.”


Robert’s breath hitches in his throat. It’s just a hand on his shoulder but it’s sudden and unexpected. He feels pathetic for letting it affect him so quickly. It doesn’t help that he’s flustered from the hot coffee.


Turning back towards Aaron, he locks eyes with him. He feels like his heart is in his mouth. There isn’t much space between them and Aaron looks so nervous; understandable considering the daggers Robert’s giving him right now. He can’t afford to be late for another meeting with Lawrence. He’s worked so hard for his position and this stupid crush is ruining everything.


The hand on his shoulder is gone and Robert’s frustrated by the absence of his touch. It’s only made him hungry for more and he feels like a man starving. The anger that he’s feeling is combining with another emotion he knows all too well.


The ship’s siren goes off and Aaron feels like he’s jumping out his skin. He falls back against the  wall and suddenly Robert’s body is pressing against his. The ship’s moving, that has to be the reason. He’s got that feeling in his stomach that makes him feel free, like he’s flying through the waves of the ocean.


Their hips are pressed against each other and Robert’s face is hovering just above his, so close yet so far away. He doesn’t dare look him in the eyes, too afraid of rejection or disgust; this guy seems like the type who could be a homophobe. His gaze flickers to Robert’s lips instead and his body throbs with desire.


It’s all happening in slow motion and he doesn’t want any of it to stop. He’s struggling to contain the lust he’s felt for this man any longer.


Robert notices that look in his eyes, but he can’t quite put a label on it. He doesn’t think it’s possible - the thought hasn’t even crossed his mind.  Aaron can’t be interested in him…but what if he is? He feels like this is his only chance he has to run his hands under Aaron’s top or let them travel down to his shorts.


But he doesn’t.


The ship rocks gently and Robert can feel Aaron’s damp t-shirt begin to stick against his chest. He’s dropped his wet shirt onto the floor, along with the Costa cup.


“Thought you were gonna get me a shirt?” he asks.


The question hangs in the air for a few moments; both men trying to work out what the other one’s thinking.


Aaron feels like he should laugh and just push the Robert away, but he recognises that look on the other man’s face. Last night he’d seen a fire in Robert’s eyes that possessed him. It wasn’t a good feeling but it wasn’t bad either. It stung.


On the surface it seems like there’s pure hatred between them, but there’s so much more to it than that. Robert had no reason to be so over the top with his anger. Liv was harmless, Chrissie had even said so. He’d had the power in that situation, yet he’d lashed out. Aaron hadn’t done anything to upset him - that he knew of.


Aaron’s been replaying the moment in his mind over and over; the slight hesitation, the shakiness of Robert’s breath before he’d spoken. Seeing that look again, it puts the pieces together -  he knows.



He can recognise self hatred anywhere.


He will not let Robert Sugden take out his own anger on him. This prick is not about to use him the way that he used Paddy. The guy’s a talented performer with fans, a fiancee and a successful family by his side. What’s he got to be angry about?


He’ll have to find another punching bag.


“Right yeah, the shirt.” Aaron nods, ready to calmly ask Robert to step away from him. They can both carry on with their day and spare each other any further embarrassment. That prick can run back to Rebecca, she’s welcome to him. He’s already feed up of his childish outbursts.


Robert smiles and it’s hard to tell if it’s suppose to sly or shy. He picks that moment to whisper huskily into his ear, “I can stay like this, if you really want…”


There’s a mocking tone to his voice and Aaron realises his assumption must be true; the other man just sees him as a stupid queer. He must be so obvious. Maybe his remark the night before had been nothing but disdain. The anger rises him like a sudden crash of thunder.


Just when Robert’s about to move away from him, Aaron grabs him by the shoulders. He’s hopeful for a moment that he’ll plant a harsh kiss on his lips. They’ll tumble back into Aaron’s cabin and he’ll have him on the bed moaning his name and begging for more.


He doesn’t kiss him.


Robert’s flung backwards and pinned against the opposite wall. He can’t stop the grin from lighting up his face, even if Aaron’s anger couldn’t be clearer. “Like a bit of rough, do you? Doesn’t surprise me” he laughs, a little out of breath.


“Don’t you dare make a mug out of me” Aaron threatens, fist clenched and aiming for Robert’s jaw.


He’s so close to punching him but the sound of Liv’s voice snaps him out of it. “Aaron! What are you doing?” She looks utterly horrified, as if she’s watching her worse nightmare come to life.


Robert keeps still, awaiting whatever Aaron thinks he deserves. He closes his eyes and waits for what feels like a lifetime. For a while he can still feel Aaron’s breath near his face and he wonders why he’s gotten so mad. Can’t the guy take a joke? That’s clearly what this is - just some innocent messing around after Aaron had caused him to miss his important meeting. He could have said a lot worse. Hell, he isn’t the one offended by having a guy come on to him. Far from it - his cock's hard and he's biting down hard on his bottom lip until all he can hear is the ship's vibrations.


When he opens his eyes again he’s alone and more confused than ever. 



Chapter Text

6th of December 2014. (continued)


He looks at his rolex. Fuck. It’s almost show time.



Robert’s slept too long.



He sits up on the mattress, spreads his legs and lets his hands wander over his chest. He’d had a shower and then fallen asleep on his bed. It seems so big without Chrissie there beside him. His limbs feel lifeless as he tries to wriggle his feet over to the edge of the bed. He should be cold; he can see goosebumps rising on his watch’s arm but somehow he feels hot.



He remembers the burn of the coffee against his skin, the gasp he’d let out as Aaron stared at him in shock. He’d run away and left him hard and wanting. That stain had ruined one of his favourite shirts. It won’t be the last mark that Aaron leaves on him.



There’s a knock on the cabin door and a familiar voice grumbles, “Robert?”



He’s never moved so fast in his life, grabbing one of the pillows to shield himself as he tries to jump underneath the bed covers without much success. It looks much less innocent than he’d intended. Maybe he would have been better off sitting there naked. No, no never. Never for Lawrence.



The door’s slammed shut and the older man’s eyes are widening. “I-I didn’t mean to…interrupt!” he stutters and Robert wonders if he thinks that Chrissie’s underneath the bed covers with him. Or worse, Rebecca…



“…there’s no one here. I was just sleeping”



Lawrence looks doubtful, his gaze jumping around the room. He knows he really shouldn’t find it funny, but Robert just can’t help but grin. His boss is gay as they come and so far in the closet he could be the king of Narnia. Robert can see it in his mind’s eye; Lawrence showering his future son in law with gifts, feeding him turkish delight and patting him on the shoulder whenever he’s proud of him. He already makes a real habit of the latter - only there’s nothing parental about it. This is probably a secret fantasy of his - walking in on the blonde bombshell having nothing more than a cushion preserving his modesty.



“Sleeping. I uh - “ he begins but then he coughs and booms out confidently, “what the hell are you doing? The show’s starting in half an hour!”



“You’ll have to cancel. It’ll just make them hungry for more.” Robert gives him a wink.



He doesn’t miss the way Lawrence’s gaze lingers on the placement of the cushion. He’s torn between wanting to throw up and bursting into a fit of laughter. Note to self; never fall asleep naked - unless you’re in good company. Preferably Aaron’s company. There it is again; the distraction that’s ruining him.



“You don’t think you can perform?” Lawrence asks and Robert can’t hold back anymore. “Can you hear yourself?” he chuckles as he slides off of the bed and walks over to his boss.



Lawrence hasn’t even mentioned the meeting that was suppose to happen. He probably thinks his employee’s been asleep since the end of rehearsals. Bex has probably been bad mouthing him again. Or maybe Chrissie isn’t as ok as she seems about the confrontation with Aaron and that girl last night.



All Robert knows is that he can’t sing tonight. He’s sick of pretending to be in love with Rebecca. He’s sick of being 007. He needs a break to be whoever he wants to be; right now that’s a man who wants to be with Aaron. He hates himself for feeling this way.



Here he is, standing practically naked in front of the man he owes all of his success to. If Lawrence hadn’t believed in him, Robert would probably still be trying to avoid life on the streets.



Lawrence manages to string some words together, “Fine. We’ll cancel the show. You can do the James Bond quiz tonight instead. It was always better when you use to do it.”



Robert smiles. The good old days, when all he did was present quizzes and bingo nights. Before they trusted him to take centre stage. It’s still a performance - adopting a persona that the audience can interact with. It’s not like he’s just gonna sit there and read out the questions  in mono tone. He loves James Bond. It’s not what he’d wanted, but at least Aaron won’t be there.



“Wear your tux” Lawrence tells him before he leaves. As if there’s any doubt that he will.






Chas spends a good couple of hours tying to get an answer out of her son. She doesn’t understand how he could have a problem with Robert when as far as she’s concerned, the two of them have barely spoken. She teases him that it’s obvious that he fancies Robert, but not to let the stranger get to him.



Aaron reassures her that it was merely a misunderstanding and Liv reluctantly agrees that it probably wasn’t as bad as it looked. She calls the Whites a bunch of snobs, who they should all just laugh at. Paddy asks if Aaron wants him to talk to Robert for him but the answer is a resounding no.



In the evening, Aaron humours Paddy by agreeing to go with him to the James Bond quiz held in the Red Bar. Neither of them know much about the movies but they figure it’ll be a laugh. Chas and Liv decide to go to the Spa together and Aaron’s amused to see his sister happy to do something ‘girly’ for once - even if she’s probably been roped into it. She asks him more than a few times if he’s ok, but he assures her that he’s mucking through. He asks her the same question and she just nods and sticks her tongue out at him.



“Maybe Chas will finally give her that chat about boys and that?” Paddy wonders, as if he’s been on edge about it for a while.



Aaron almost chokes on his pint as he can’t help but laugh, “Liv’s not interested in boys”



Paddy’s eyes widen and he fiddles with the rim of his glasses distractedly, “Oh…you mean she might be…?”



Aaron shrugs, uncomfortable with the way sexuality seems to still come up as if it’s a disease that needs to be cured. He’s battled enough with those demons in the past and he hates being reminded of it, even if he knows it’s not deliberate.



What Robert had said that afternoon had hurt him but the more he thinks about it, the more he worries that he overreacted. He’d been about to punch him, for fuck’s sake. He barely knows the guy. He doesn’t know what’s going on with him; just like Robert has no idea about his own past; the scars, the self hatred, the worst parts of him.



He’s pretty sure Robert had been mocking him, but part of him wonders if maybe it was only suppose to be teasing. No way. That means Robert might be gay…he doesn’t want to let himself think of that possibility. Maybe it doesn’t matter either way. He ponders when Robert’s feelings had even started to even matter to him. The guy’s just an arrogant handsome stranger he won’t care about a month from now.



What truly matters to Aaron is his family; the fact that Liv has seen him threaten someone breaks his heart. Now she’ll never trust him enough to explain her feelings. He wants to say She’ll tell us when she’s ready but in his case he felt like there would never be a good time; he hated himself for what he was.



The chatter in the bar dies down and Aaron turns on his bar stool as he recognises the voice he’s grown use to.



The guy doing the quiz has dropped out. Robert’s unashamedly a massive Bond fan, so he adores the attention he receives as he strolls into Red Bar holding a Martini. His hair is slicked back and his voice is confident as he addresses his audience, “So, who here has a licence to kill this quiz?”



Ok so it’s not the best material, but it’s all he’s got to work with. Plus, guess who’s the first contestant to grab a quiz sheet; moody and mysterious Aaron with those pouting lips he wants to kiss. Fate must hate him.



The 007 theme music is playing and yet again he’s wearing a well fitted tuxedo. Aaron feels like a muppet sitting there in his hoodie, leaning over his pint and drooling at the near-stranger like an awe-struck teenager. He has flashbacks to their first meeting out on deck, then seeing him on stage for the first time belting out that Duran Duran song. It seems like a lifetime ago.



He’s doing the quiz? Isn’t he performing in The Arena tonight?



“We can leave if you want to,” Paddy tells the younger man, only to receive a shrug in response.



Aaron knows full well that the only reason why Paddy suggested going to this was because it was on at the same time as Robert’s show.



Paddy has to repeat the first question of the quiz to him because he can’t focus on what Robert is saying. All he can think about is Robert in the role of Bond and himself as a random conquest - but then he remembers the killer blow; nor Robert or James is gay.



Don’t let that ruin things, it’s just a pointless fantasy. You wouldn’t actually fuck him anyway; think of what it would do to his ego.  He’s probably a homophobe. He really upset you just a couple of hours ago. What the hell is wrong with you? Remember his reaction to the coffee incident. Remember his chest…Fuck it, you want him. You really should have punched him.



Robert doesn’t dare try and make eye contact with him - simply gives him his space and focuses on doing his job. The quiz is corny but fun and the guests are having a ball after just a few questions. For a while he’s so grateful he got to host this and they had to stick a last minute boy band in The Arena. 



He decides that he wants to apologise, or at least pretend to be sorry for the coffee incident. It gives him an excuse to talk to the other man and maybe Aaron will even smile. That ageing bald man is parked beside him and he doesn’t disappear until all the questions have been read out. At this point Robert’s almost forgotten what he wants to say, but those eyes are beckoning him over.



“Evening. You a big Bond fan?”



Aaron looks up from his empty pint glass and gives him a shrug. He seems confused that communication is taking place.






Robert swings his legs over the stool but almost falls straight off. It doesn’t shake his confident. “What’s not to love? spy noir, fast cars, explosions, hot birds!”



The younger man shakes his head and chuckles, “You sound like a teenage boy. I heard you’ve got a poster of Sean Connery on your dressing room door.”



Neither of them seem angry. Maybe they can move on from this.



“That’s not exactly common knowledge, Aaron.”



“I’m not a common bloke.”



“Maybe not. Listen, I want to apologise  - for earlier, with the coffee.”



“You’re the one who got covered in the stuff.”



“I should have been looking where I was going.”



“It’s fine. No harm done. Except maybe to your ego.”



“I’ll survive.”



“I reckon you always do.”



The smile on Robert’s face falters as Rebecca saunters into the bar, interrupting the longest conversation he’s had with Aaron so far. She’s dressed casual like most of the guests but she’s made an effort to wear a high waisted skirt that shows off her legs. The old men are already perving on her and Robert wonders if her or Chrissie could at least go a day without checking up on him. Bex’s favourite film is Moulin Rogue, that’s as close as she’s ever gonna get to being a Bond fan.



“How’s the quiz going?” she beams, grabbing a stool and parking herself right in-between them. But her attention is only on her dance partner. It’s weird how she’s acting like there isn’t a gorgeous man right beside her. For a moment Robert envies her.






He watches Aaron turn and order another drink from the bar and his heart sinks. Rebecca ruins everything.



She leans over to whisper in his ear, “Were you doing something naughty earlier? Dad told me how weird you were being.”



“Please don’t tell me he actually used the word ‘naughty’ ?”



“He was bright red when he came to see me. I had to force it out of him.”



“I was sleeping. He just showed up. I told him I couldn’t do the show. That was it.”



“It’s ok to have some alone time Robert” Rebecca laughs, eyebrow raised and a hand patting him on the shoulder.



He’s so surprised that she’s touched him that his gaze moves frantically around the bar. Naturally his eyes dart to Aaron, even with his view obstructed by Rebecca’s head. The other man blinks and looks away the moment that he’s spotted but Robert already saw him swallow and lick his lips. This is stupid. They need to talk again. He doesn’t know why they need an excuse but he’s willing to come up with one.  “Time for the results” he announces into his microphone as he reluctantly leaves the bar.



Paddy returns from the toilet in time to get his seat back from Robert. “Oh Hi Bex! No show tonight?”



it seems to take her a while to decide to acknowledge that he’s spoken to her, as if she’s in a trance. She just nods and then casts her attention back to Robert.



Aaron can’t help but roll his eyes. They really do think they’re superior to everyone else on this ship. At least Robert’s charming. So. fucking, charming. Not to mention the look he keeps giving him - like he wants more and more. I can stay like this, if you really want - That’s what he’d said.



Maybe Robert Sugden actually wants to fuck him. It’s a dangerously distracting thought.



At some point the evening’s resumed - Robert’s strolling across the little stage and reading out the answers. Aaron’s lost track of what’s going on. Paddy came back at some point and there’s a new drink in his hand but his mind is just racing with a constant thought of Robert Robert Robert.



Rebecca’s laughing at the puns in the terrible script and even shouts out a couple of wrong answers. She’s embarrassing. He doesn’t understand how they can be so oblivious to the fact that everyone knows they’re fucking. In his mind’s eye, her lips are still hovering over Robert’s ear and asking him to go to bed with her. It makes his stomach ache.



Suddenly Robert’s walking straight over to him and he has to bite down on his lip to stop himself from yelling out in confusion. He’s only had a couple of pints but he feels like he’s not really in the room at all. He’s somewhere much better - where 007’s tux lies abandoned on the floor.



“Bond girl played by Denise Richards…I said there was a clue by the bar!”



He gives Aaron a smile and then points to above his head. There’s mistletoe. Of course there is.



It’s like time’s frozen again. That’s happening a lot for him today. There’s something between them and it’s scary because its unknown but at the same time it’s such a fucking turn on. Robert’s looking right through him and he must know how badly he wants to kiss him right now.



“What’s the answer?” Paddy prompts from behind him and Aaron feels guilty for forgetting he’s still here.



Robert’s smile turns to a frown. He turns away and heads back to the stage as he announces in monotone,  “Christmas.  The Answer is the gorgeous Dr Christmas Jones. The movie is ‘The World Is not Enough’, released in 1999.”



“I guess I know what to get you this year!” Rebecca pipes up. A few people laugh.



You’ve given him enough already Aaron thinks to himself.



Once the quiz is over and Paddy’s hanging his head in shame, his feet drag him to the nearest gents. He stands over by the sinks and looks in the mirror. Somehow he isn’t surprised when the door opens and 007 walks in with a smug look on his face. “How did you do?”



Aaron stuffs his hands in his pockets and looks at their reflections. It’s like he’s forgotten why he even came in here. “How did - the quiz? Awful. We couldn’t even remember who sang Thunderball.”



“Even when I said ‘Which welsh legend?’ Come on, who else could that be but Tom Jones?”



“Mind went blank. I’m sure that’s happened to you before.”



“Not that I remember.”



Aaron takes a deep breath before he turns around to face him, daring to look him in the eyes. “Always come up with a good lie for her, do ya?”



Robert glances back at the door for a second. Then he walks straight over to Aaron. He’s studying his face, trying to work out if he’s made the right decision by following him. He’d been so close to kissing him underneath that mistletoe. There’s no mistaking now that the other man wants him; it’s written all over his face.



“Why are we talking about my fiancee?”



“You wanna talk about Rebecca instead? Figures.” There’s a bitter tone to his voice. Jealousy.



He knows now that he was wrong about Aaron and Rebecca. But it doesn’t stop him from teasing, “You really are smitten. it’s sort of sweet.”



He rolls his eyes, “This again? I’m not after your bird mate.”



“So we’re mates now?” Robert asks in a soft voice. He’s closer now, hovering his face over the other man’s, his gaze  moving from Aaron’s eyes to his lips.



Aaron gulps. His eyes cloud over with lust as he stares up at the man he hasn’t stopped thinking about. He still doesn’t understand what’s happening between them. He’d been so sure earlier that Robert was a raging homophobe. “Unless you’ve got a problem with me” he manages to mumble.



“No…” Robert laughs lightly and he’s about to close the distance between them and plant his lips on Aaron’s. He wants to feel his body pressed against the other man’s just like earlier that day.



But the 007 theme blares out from his mobile and then Rebecca’s yelling in his ear something about Lawrence. Of course it’s Lawrence.



Aaron watches him jump away from him as if he’s got the plague, phone glued to his ear as he leaves the room. He recognises the voice straight away. For a moment he’d forgotten how insignificant he is, even if Robert really does want him; he’s third in line after Chrissie and Rebecca.


Chapter Text

7th of December 2014 (Part 1).



“Get up, lazy bones!” is the first thing that Aaron hears in the morning, just before a cushion lands on his face and he’s forced to shuffle down the bed. His eyes take a few moments to adjust to the brightness of the room as he prepares himself for another day.



Liv’s standing by the window and staring out at the picturesque view of Tenerife. It’s only ruined by the hustle and bustle of passengers as they can be seen hurrying down the gangway and over to the cafes, taxis and tour guides. He can hear some music but then he realises his sister’s turned the tv on in another attempt to wake him up. She’ll probably throw the remote at him if he doesn’t make a move right now.



“I’m up!” he protests, hands shielding his face as he watches her with a knowing grin. He vaguely remembers going to sleep the night before. He found Paddy again after his encounter with Robert but the journey back to their deck had been long and a massive chore. Liv and Chas had gone to the spa, but that couldn’t have taken all night. He doesn’t remember seeing them.



Suddenly he feels guilty for not spending enough time with his family. He’s been wasting his energy on a man who is way too tied up in his own crap to pay attention to Aaron Dingle. Maybe that’s a selfish thought, but he’s on holiday with his family and it is what it is. Getting off with a stranger shouldn’t be a priority for him.



“Mum and Paddy at breakfast?” he asks to distract himself from that train of thought.



She nods and it’s then that he notices that she’s dressed; wearing that grey top with the skull on, with shorts and leggings even though it’s definitely too hot to wear them. Her hair is up in bunches and he can just picture Chas making a fuss of getting it done over breakfast. He hasn’t missed much.



“I’ve had mine too. They sent me back to get you. I thought you’d be dressed already. I guess we can’t always get what we want.”



He grabs a handful of clothes and then disappears into the toilet to get changed.



Liv takes her chance and grabs Aaron’s phone from where she spotted it at the edge of his bed cover. She scrolls through the contacts, then the messages. Nothing new; nothing to worry about. His ramblings from last night could have meant nothing, but she has to be sure. He’d looked tired, more than anything. When Paddy had brought him back to the cabin the siblings shared, he’d been adamant that Aaron hadn’t drunk that much. He’d been grumpy as hell, mumblings to himself and Liv swears there was something about Robert.



Robert fucking Sugden.



She can’t believe that she liked him once. A lot can happen in a few days.



An announcement interrupts the music blaring out from the tv - “Attention, could Mr Aaron Dingle please make his way to reception? That’s Mr Aaron Dingle.”



The man in question stumbles back into the room with a solid frown on his face. “What have I done?”



“Beats me” Liv shrugs. “But you better hurry up if you wanna get on the beach with us!”



“Liv it might be something serious, what if mum or Paddy have had an accident?”



“I was just with them! Plus, remember these little things we have called phones?” The sarcasm rolls off her tongue while she’s still holding Aaron’s mobile.



She gulps.



“What you doing with that?”



“You want me to phone them and check they’re ok?”



He seems to let her off the hook, throws on his shoes and he’s ready to go. “Let’s just go to reception, come on.”



No one seems to be in a hurry. People are wandering about the ship as if they have no intention of exploring the port. Apparently some guests just aren’t interested in their destinations. To them the journey is more important. Aaron can’t see the appeal of that - he wants to know where he’s going; where why and how. It’s the only way he can figure out what to do next.



They’re running down the stairs to the 5th deck, where they pass the library, a couple of shops and the entrance to one of the posh restaurants. It’s gonna take them awhile to navigate the place. Aaron even has to double check with an elderly lady that they’ve got the right floor. She tells him to look out for the main stair case, the one that joins floors 5, 6 and 7 together. It’s in the centre of the ship, surrounded by ember lighting that only shows up in the evening but it’s like ‘something out of a fairytale’.



The woman starts to talk to Liv about her grandson and Aaron has to insist that they better be going.  “That’s the most fun i’ve had so far” his sister snorts.



Aaron throws his hands down onto the reception desk as if to check if it’s a mirage and a dark haired woman wearing bright make up raises an eyebrow at him “Are you alright, Sir?”



“I’m Aaron Dingle” he clarifies, wiping the sweat from his brow. He’s already chewing on the sleeve of his hoodie.



Liv’s by his side giving him a look of concern. It’s as if she can see all the thoughts whizzing around in his head. He hopes to God that she can’t read them. He’s being pathetic and he knows it; should have gotten more sleep, should have ignored Robert, should have done so many things…shouldn’t have drunk so much.



“If you want to take a seat, Mr Dingle…”



“Is everything ok?”



“I’m sure it is, sir.”



He takes a few deep breaths and then sits down beside the entrance to Costa. “What’s going on?” Liv asks in a gentle voice but he can still tell that she’s frustrated. She won’t let it lie until he tells her the truth. Maybe then she’ll tell him what’s going on with her.



“I think I drank too much last night. I haven’t had a hangover in a while, just not use to it.” His head’s banging and he feels shame because he’s a Dingle and he should be able to stomach it.



It’s not everything on his mind but it’s enough for her to nod at him and nuzzle her head against his chest. “You just need to chill out…get on the beach, have a swim. Go to bed early tonight, no show or anything…”



“Are you parenting me?” he accuses.






He gives her a tickle.



“Stop! Stop it’s embarrassing!” she laughs.



The reception phone rings and Aaron’s eyeing the woman like a hawk. He’s being stupidly paranoid. What he really needs is some breakfast and Adam’s cure for a bad hangover - more beer as far as he’s aware. Maybe someone at home is ill - Zak, Lisa, Cain, Belle…it could be any one of them. But why announce his name? Why not call for his mum and Paddy too?



The woman’s smiling into the receiver and it makes Aaron feel as if he’s missing the punchline of a joke. Grabbing a post-it note, she scribbles something down and then beckons him back over with her finger. So much for a 5 star service.



Surely he imagines the wink as she passes the message over to him. It’s a phone number.



“Uh…” He looks at her name tag. “Leyla? I don’t know what you think you’re playing at…” He’s about to raise his voice when he feels Liv’s presence by his side again. Everything’s happening so quickly.



“Don’t shoot the messenger.” She lets out a nervous laugh and that’s when he spies the ‘R’ at the end of the digits. He shoves it into his pocket. “What’s happening?” the teenager enquires and Aaron gives her his best innocent eyes. “Just a mix up, doesn’t matter.”



He feels much better after he grabs a toastie. It’s like a repeat of the day before. The four of them are on another beach, paddling in another part of the same sea. They’ve stayed close to the ship this time, not wanting to risk going into town and only coming back in the nick of time. Chas doesn’t need to buy anymore clothes anyway. She practically bought a whole shop.



Everyone’s laughing, but Aaron’s eyes aren’t smiling. He’s thinking about the phone number that’s burning a hole in the pocket of his hoodie, where his hands are stuffed. It’s boiling but he’s refused to take it off, settling for splashing around the shallow water in his shorts.



The impossible happens - as it’s been happening a lot. But Aaron doesn’t believe in signs.



It’s worrying how quickly he recognises the other man, even when all he can really see is blonde hair. a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up and an arse he hasn’t had time to appreciate until now. The beach is busy and Aaron knows that to have spotted him like this, he must have been looking for him in the first place. They’re at least a dozen people in-between them, yet Robert’s drawing him in like a moth to a flame.



Before he can stop himself he’s mumbling something to his mum about needing a piss and heading over in the direction of the older man.



He’s alone, jeans rolled up to his knees as he stands blazingly looking out to the sea.The rays of light are shining off his hair like he’s a god damn Angel and Aaron really needs to get a fucking grip.



He remembers the embarrassment that he’d felt the night before - Robert’s compete disinterest as he left him in the bogs to go and deal with the Whites, of all people. Then there was the phone number this morning. There’s no reason to trust him, clearly he’s into mind games.



It’s only when he gets closer that he notices the little cloud of smoke. He’s already tapped Robert on the shoulder and the guy spins around, bare feet sinking into the sand. “Don’t touch me” he attempts to mumble around the cigarette buried between his lips.



They’re both having to squint their eyes and Aaron’s covering his mouth as he coughs. It’s a shock. But it really shouldn’t matter. It’s not like he isn’t use to people smoking around the Woolpack. But Robert shouldn’t be doing anything that might damage his voice.



It’s such a contrast to the performer he knows, the guy who wears suits and styles his hair to perfection. His blonde locks look windswept but there hasn’t been a hint of a breeze all morning. His shirt’s unbuttoned but what really matters is the way that Robert’s staring at him in confusion.






The name is a question in the air. This is the last thing Robert had expected. Aaron has his phone number. All he has to do was give him a text and they could meet in private, problem solved. Apparently that's too complicated for him to understand.



Aaron wasn’t the one who’d been up all night wondering about all the risks involved. He wasn’t the one who arranged the beautiful Leyla to do a favour for him. Nor was he the one who had been in the medical bay with Lawrence for hours having to listen to his boss moan and complain. All he’s suppose to do is text him but so far he can’t even manage that.



“What was all that about this morning?”



Robert takes another drag of his cigarette. “Leyla told me you were freaked out. I would have loved to of seen the look on your face!”



He expects a laugh in reply but all he gets is a groan of frustration.



Aaron watches him, fixated on his lips.



Robert notices, gives him a wink.



“You shouldn’t smoke” Aaron tells him because everything else that he wanted to say has suddenly slipped his mind. He doesn’t have a problem with smoking or people who smoke, he’s just not one of them. Not anymore, anyway. He's still not over how different Robert looks in the light of day - away from stage lighting or the dimness of the men's bogs. He's close enough to notice the constellation of freckles on the other man's face. He bites down on his lower lip, imagining running his tongue along the other man's pale skin; delicate and slow. His gaze moves down to Robert's exposed chest, slightly defined muscle that looks slightly moist from sweat and a spray of water from the ocean. 



“You already know I don’t play by the rules” Robert whispers, voice dripping with promise.



“Does Lawrence know?” Aaron remembers what they were talking about and he sees the hint of a frown on Robert's face. He doesn't want to talk about his boss. It's understandable. Maybe there's a story behind that.



“What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.”



“Plenty of witnesses here right now, I could go and tell him.”



“Why would you do that?”



“Maybe i’m just a bit of a dick.”



Robert chuckles. Aaron’s smiling back at him and he wishes so badly that he could read his mind. He has a pretty good idea of the kind of thoughts he might be having though. They definitely wouldn’t be appropriate for the PG performances of his shows. He’s learnt all about body language as part of the acting lessons he had in training. If he’s honest with himself, he’s ashamed it’s taken him this long to realise Aaron’s attraction to him.



Maybe he just doesn’t feel worthy enough.



Aaron is still a mystery to him but he radiates arrogance in a way that demands Robert’s respect. In the right circumstances, he realises he’d do anything that the other man wanted from him. It's a dangerous thought, brought on by a stupid fantasy. He’s obsessed - has been since he first saw him out on deck that night. These thoughts are in the back of his head and they’re slowing slithering to the surface. It’s a tug of war and he doesn’t know which side he wants to win. Aaron wants him.



He thinks of his father. He thinks of Chrissie. He has a wife, an ex (of sorts), a boss who fancies him and his fans. Yet one look from Aaron and he’s gone - hooked on something dangerous and power that he just can’t ignore. He’d told him in that corridor - shirtless and panting, “I can stay like this, if you really want.” Then again last night in the bogs, he’d made it perfectly clear what he’d wanted; what he still wants.



Distractions. Always distractions. It’s why he’d come out onto the beach before rehearsals. He can still remember Lawrence squeezing his hand and moaning about the pain that he was in. Rebecca and Chrissie had left him with the old man while they went to get their beauty sleep. Never mind the head of entertainment - the star of White Cruises with the hundreds of fans. He’d been so fucking tired this morning. He’d called reception after breakfast and decided that enough was enough - he deserved some attention; deserved to see Aaron.



Five hours later, here they are.



“I thought we were mates? Anyway, Lawrence is busy resting. He had a bad turn last night.”



They’re both walking along the beach now. Robert’s splashing his feet with water in a hopeless attempt to get the sand from between his toes. Another distraction. He’s nervous. The cigarette won’t help.



“Sick, is he?” Aaron asks, even though he really couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of the cruise director (and they both know it).



“Heart Attack. He faked one.”



They’re approaching the harbour and Robert stubs his cigarette out on the pavement.



“Blimey. Almost gave you one and all, did it?”



“This was my emergency supply” he insists, pulling out the empty packet from his jean pocket and proudly throwing it in the bin.



“Not like they sell them in the shops on board or anything?”



“I’m not a smoker.”



Aaron knows what he’s trying to say. He’s stressed, so he needs a release. One that was familiar. Something that he could trust. Maybe he could do with having something else to distract him.



“It’s not cool and it’s not sexy, it’s just a bad habit. It’s not good for your voice.”



“So what is sexy?” Robert challenges with a raised eyebrow.



“Minty fresh breath?”



“Point taken.”



“Oh, you’re listening to me?”



“I’ve gotta listen to my fans. They give me some great feedback.”



“Good thing i’ve got some gum on me. Want some?”



“Not right now.” Robert shrugs, trying to seem casual and not like his whole body is throbbing with desire for the other man. He’s turning down a kiss and he knows it.  This was unexpected. He has no plan. He doesn’t know if they’ll be anyone back at the cabin. He doesn’t know if its a good idea to go back to Aaron’s. The thrill of the chase makes him feel like his heart’s gonna beat out of his chest and it’s an amazing feeling but he can’t, won’t hold back.



“No course not. But for later?” Aaron offers, taking hold of his hand to pass him the half empty pack of gum from his pocket. He’s biting down on his lower lip, searching Robert’s face for confirmation.



Robert locks eyes with him and for a moment he imagines that hand cupping his face, gripping his back, or stroking his cock. He brushes his thumb over one of Aaron’s fingers. “You’re too kind.”



"I'm sure there's a way you could return the favour." Aaron looks back over his shoulder, as if he's only just remembered that he's left his family. He's really fucked up his priorities. It's a good thing that he doesn't care. 



Robert can't wait any longer. When Aaron meets his gaze again, he grabs hold of his hand. He doesn't want to let go. “Not here” he manages to choke out,  then he’s waving his cruise card at security as he leads the other man back onto the ship.