He doesn't remember a lot.
He's told himself that his mind hasn't allowed him to.
It's protecting him from the horrors of what happened. She screamed and the car turned and all Robert could do was look back, look at Seb because he was still breathing and -
Well, she wasn't.
She was being dragged out, pulse barely there apparently and blood coating her blonde hair.
Robert shudders, Seb wriggling over his chest and his tiny frame feeling out the body protecting him and Robert holds him tighter.
He can't speak.
He doesn't do that now. Now, he just sits in Vic's spare room, sometimes lays down and he keeps Seb on his chest.
He keeps him close.
There's a faint knock on the door and he sees Vic standing there, she's got a cup of tea in hand and Seb's bottle.
"Haven't come down for a while?" She says, tries to make it sound like an innocent enough question when in reality, she's accusing him, she's telling him he should get out of him and have some fresh air with the baby.
Robert lifts his head a little and frowns. "We're good here aren't we?" He croaks out, finger falling on Seb's little nose and making the baby's mouth hang open a little in a soft sort of amazement.
He wants Seb to agree with him.
He wants Seb to understand why they can't go visit his mummy just yet, why she's laying in a hospital bed, alone.
Vic sighs steadily. "What about we take him out, we can go to the beach with him."
She's trying, bless her, she's trying but -
"It's January." He says, and he doesn't bite, he's not angry or mean. He just wants to be alone, he just wants him and Seb to be left alone.
She notices how silly she sounded and gulps hard. He thinks she's going to leave, only she sits down inside and starts rubbing Seb's back a little.
"I could take him for a few hours, let you get your head round things." She pauses and smiles. "Maybe go to the hospital and -" he winces and she stops herself.
"I know you're trying to help." He bites his lip and she's got tears in her eyes. "But I don't want to face anything just yet."
Because Rebecca is in a coma.
Because Chrissie is dead and Lawrence is dead and Lachlan is rotting away in a cell and -
She nods slowly, moving the hair out of her face and playing with her hands. "I get it. But - at least let people see ya. Diane wants to, she's worried about ya."
He bristles, he heard her the night before. She was in the house, only downstairs, crying about how dreadful it all was.
And he felt tears roll down his face as Seb reached out and held his hand.
"She doesn't need to be. I'm not the one dead. I'm not the one in a coma. Critical." He doesn't want to get carried away because he's suddenly seeing Rebecca laying on the ground and Seb's crying in his arms and he's lucky to be alive.
He's lucky not to be Rebecca.
Vic frowns, looks saddened suddenly. "There's been no change ya know?" She says, "I checked." And he's grateful, so grateful.
But at the same time, he knows he doesn't have any place to be.
She didn't mean anything to him, not really.
He can't cry for her.
Robert nods. "Thanks." He says slowly, and Seb starts wriggling around a little. He's getting restless, sick of laying on his front and looking at his daddy for hours on end. "Think he's hungry." Robert comments, and Vic passes the bottle, leaves everything else.
She leaves herself after a while of watching, and the sun goes down and the moon comes up and he carries Seb to the window so he can see the stars.
"They're shining for you mate." He says softly, pulls back the knitted curtain and exposes the street more.
He doesn't expect to see Aaron looking up at his window.
Hands in his pockets and a small frown on his face, like he doesn't know what to say.
Robert stares back at him. He hasn't seen him since he was running around the hospital blaming himself and Aaron was telling him to calm down.
It wasn't working. Nothing was. Until Aaron was pressing his face against Robert's forehead and everything fell away.
Robert can't look away from him. He waits, feels himself trip a little and get lost in his light and then Gerry's voice shakes Aaron away.
And he's disappearing and Robert pulls the curtain back down.
He's in the car.
He can barely breathe.
He's racing towards Andy, he swerves and Max King ends up dead.
And it's his fault.
And then he's swerving again and Andy nearly ends up dead and his car explodes.
And he's screaming at Aaron, he's distracting him in his car and -
Aaron nearly dies.
He tilts his head back, feels the water race over him and he nearly dies too.
He nearly welcomes it.
And then he's hit by a car, by Lawrence, and he feels himself dying again.
And again and again until Seb's in the back of his car and he's trying to stay calm and -
Lawrence is dead.
He should be too.
Seb won't stop crying.
He's woken up with tears stretching down his face and Robert just holds him in his hands and stares at him.
His eyes are a soft blue colour, green lining the inside and a faint hint of hazel at the pupil.
He's gnawing at his hand, nose twitching and facing growing redder and he just won't stop crying.
"Hey mate." Robert just keeps staring at him, wincing as Seb continues to cry. "What's wrong? You're - you've got me." He tells him over and over again but Seb's al over the place now.
He's screaming at the top of his lungs and Robert holds him close to his chest. He tries opening the window, letting some air in but it doesn't work.
And then Vic's coming in to the room, she's reaching out to take Seb but Robert holds him closer.
"He doesn't want you." He spits, mean, so cold.
Because he knows who Seb is crying for.
"He wants his mummy." He whispers and Vic's nodding her head and coming forward.
"Let me drive ya." She's saying but Robert can't move. He can't go inside a car. He can't risk his life again.
He shakes his head, moves past her and starts pulling Seb's things into a small bag.
"No - no we'll walk." He says, and Vic looks worried.
It's hardly the weather for it.
But Robert just pulls Seb over his shoulder and tries to stop him from crying. "Come on little man, let's go and see mummy."
And he's out the door before she can say anything else.
Only it's freezing cold.
Bitterly so really.
He regrets it as soon as he slams the door shut and Seb isn't having none of it as the wind picks up around him.
Robert can't blame him really.
Just sights the bus in front of him and knows that if he runs he can make it.
So he does, and then he's dropping Jeff the Giraffe and hearing someone call his name.
He half turns and sees who it is.
Of course it's Aaron.
He's holding the small Giraffe in his hand and turning it over.
Robert stares at him for a second before moving forward and reaching out for the soft toy.
"Cheers." He says and then Seb is wailing a little more and Robert's desperately on edge, desperately needs Seb to be close to Rebecca because that will settle him won't it?
Being with his mother.
Because Robert knows how it feels to be ripped away from his mother.
He turns his head towards the bus and watches it leave without him. It makes him shake his head, look down towards Seb and press his hand against his chest.
"It's okay." He says softly, and when he looks up, Aaron's staring at him.
"Look - I've - I've been meaning to come over." He says, topples over his words a little and scratches at his eyebrow. "To check how you are. How you both are."
And Robert raises his head at that, gulps hard.
Because well he knows that Aaron's feelings have shifted when it comes to Seb. He doesn't hate him, doesn't want to run when he's in the room.
He saw Aaron's blind panic at the hospital that day.
He saw what he looked like when he thought they'd been hurt.
Robert shake his head. "Don't worry about it." He says slowly, feels the wind pick up a little as Aaron stares at Seb. "We've got to go." He looks at Seb, then back at Aaron and expects him to just turn around.
Only he doesn't.
"You're taking a bus?" Aaron's head is tilted and Robert feels heat rise inside of him.
"Yeah." He says quickly, and rocks Seb a little. "Look, I've got to go." Robert doesn't want to chat, doesn't want to stand here and talk because it aches.
Because he sees Aaron, and the way he looks at him now.
He sees all the pity and he hates himself.
He does to turn and Aaron holds at his arm a little. "Are you going to see Rebecca?" And Robert nods. It makes Aaron gulp, tears in his eyes suddenly and he probably knows how touch and go it all is.
He probably knows that she's in a coma.
"I hope she's okay mate." Aaron whispers, steps forward and squeezes at Robert's arm before his phone is ringing and he pulls away. "Sorry I -" and Robert takes it as his cue to leave.
The visit helps a little.
Seb's less whiney, he sits quite contently on Robert's lap.
And Robert brings him closer to Rebecca.
She's covered in wires and tubes and scars, but Robert pulls Seb closer to her and he gurgles a little as he touches her hand.
"Hey mate, mummy's here isn't she? She's going to be just fine."
And he prays.
And he hopes.
And he begs.
Seb's sleeping and Robert's lonely.
He dares to go downstairs, dares to leave him for a second and then he hears Aaron's voice in the living room.
He hears Vic speaking to him about Rebecca, about the crash, about Seb and-
He doesn't know what to do.
"He's doing okay. I think he is anyway."
And then the sound of feet, of shuffling.
"Good." That's Aaron's voice, low, level. "Listen, if I can do anything, just let me know yeah?"
And Robert wants to let him know that he could do with a hug, could do with him leaving him alone as well.
He could do with a lot of things from Aaron.
He shouldn't ask anything from him though.
Seb's wailing again.
He's upset about something and Robert's convinced it's because Rebecca's not decided to wake up yet.
So he's getting him ready to go visit her again, see if seeing her baby will coax her out of it.
Only the door goes and it's a set back he doesn't need. He tries to ignore it but Seb's crying gives it away and suddenly Aaron's standing at the door with a soft smile on his face.
"Vic mentioned something about you taking the bus to the hospital. Is there something up with your car?"
And Robert hitches a breath about how direct it is.
He doesn't know what he's supposed to say.
And Aaron blushes. "Sorry I -" he gulps hard, and Robert hates how much he's trying to live up to his best friend title.
Robert turns towards the living room where Seb is crying on the sofa. "I'm a little busy Aaron." He mumbles.
Only that doesn't help anything, it makes Aaron offer his help instead.
"I could drive ya if you want." He says, and Robert just frowns at him. "If it would help."
"It wouldn't." Robert whispers, eyes darting all over the place. "I'm fine Aaron." He says, only Robert feels Aaron come towards him further and wince at the sound of Seb's cries.
"Or I could look at the car for ya." Aaron says, an effortless smile on his face coming out of nowhere and making Robert shake his head.
Seb's still crying and Aaron's just standing here wanting to help and -
"No. Okay - there's nothing wrong with the car. Just leave it -"
"What?" Aaron's saying and he's confused, rightly so but -
Robert turns away from him, heads back to where Seb is and presses him against his chest.
"Please just leave Aaron. I'm fine, honest." He lies, keeps lying and Aaron keeps asking what's the issue and -
"What if I crash?" His chin wobbles and he feels the air get knocked out of him suddenly.
And Seb's crying even more now, picking up on every nervous thought racing through his dad's head and -
Aaron's got tears in his eyes? Tears that threaten to fall without warning and then the door goes and Vic comes in and -
Only he doesn't, he's just looking like he wants to catch Robert.
Like he's certain he's going to fall any second.
And Robert ground himself, rubs at Seb's back and says,
And he's gone, and Vic's got that concerned look on her face and falls under the pressure of it.
It's dark outside but he doesn't care.
Seb won't either, he tells himself as he looks down at his son, he's bundled up with his blankets and Jeff by his side.
Upset because Aaron knows now.
Upset because Seb didn't get to see Rebecca.
He's upset and he doesn't see him approaching.
The next thing he knows, Aaron's sitting beside him on the bench near the church and he's pulling a coat around Robert.
"I was looking for you everywhere." Aaron says, he sounds out of breath.
Robert doesn't look up at him, instead he just nods slowly.
"I didn't mean to upset ya earlier." Aaron's biting at his lip and Robert stares at him for a second.
He shouldn't be here, he should be somewhere else.
He should be with Liv, Alex if that's what he wants.
"I don't want to talk about it." Robert drops his head.
"Because you don't think I should hear it? Because you want me to go?" And Robert doesn't say anything. "Well I'm staying here no matter what."
And it's a promise, such a sincere one as well.
It makes Robert blow out a shaky breath, bring Seb closer to him and kiss his head.
"I'm scared." He admits, doesn't know what else to say. "I'm scared, I'm so scared." And Aaron shuffles towards him a little.
"I know you are." He whispers, "But it's going to be okay." Aaron tells him. "She's going to -"
"She could die." He blurts out, tears in his eyes. "Because I made her chase me." He hates every single bit of himself. "In that stupid car."
Aaron gulps hard, "You weren't to blame."
"But I was." Robert stresses, can't get passed that. "That's why I can't -"
"Drive." Aaron whispers, and Robert just nods his head.
"I can't. I can't do it Aaron. I can't." And Robert feels Aaron everywhere, he's surrounding him, arms wrapped around his frame and catching his tears and he shudders around him.
Under the weight of such warmth.
"You don't have to okay?" Aaron's whispering, tears in his own eyes. "I won't force ya to do a thing." He tells him.
And Seb gurgles in Robert's arm. He must be freezing.
"Let's take him home okay?" Aaron looks towards Vic's and Robert nods his head.
And then Aaron's lifting his head gently and wiping away Robert's tears. "You're going to get through this." He almost knows apparently and Robert just tilts his head back and looks up towards the moon.
It's a soft creamy colour and the stars sparkle.
"You're not on your own."
And maybe that's really the truth.
He desperately hopes so.
He wakes with a start.
Aaron's swerving and they're falling and it's his fault in the end.
He wipes at his eyes and looks down towards Seb's cot.
He's fast asleep, chest moving up and down steadily.
Robert's used to spending hours just staring at him, and today, he notices another tuff of soft blond hair.
It's enough to make a small smile spread across his face.
But that fades as soon as he's awake and he's not settling with Robert.
"He wants his mum." He flaps. "I'm not gentle enough with him."
But Vic isn't having any of it. "Oh please, he just needs some cuddles." And she takes him, and he stops all the tears.
He doesn't want him.
He's settled with Vic and he watches him, and then he closes his eyes and Rebecca's laying there and she's dying and -
He grabs for Seb, pulls his bag over his shoulder and startles Vic.
"Sorry, I don't want to be too late." Rob says, "Seeing Rebecca." He explains and he's flying out the door before she can say anything else.
He doesn't mean to catch himself in Aaron's car window, but he does.
And he looks fucking awful. His eyes are wide and bloodshot and his freckles are that little bit more visible because of how pale he is.
"Eighteen minutes." Aaron says, window already rolled down now and a frown on his face.
Robert's lost in his image, and then he shakes himself out of it and gulps. "You what?" He asks and then Aaron sighs.
"The next bus." And Robert wants to scream.
"Yeah, well, I'll wait." He says instead.
"Or you could let me drive you." Aaron shrugs out, only Robert doesn't want that either.
He's fucking petrified.
And he doesn't want to drag Aaron into that.
"No." Robert says.
Aaron looks frustrated, sad. "I promise ya, nothing's going to happen." He says steadily.
Robert frowns. "You don't know that." He says heavily and Aaron drops his head.
"Okay. No I don't." He says suddenly. "But I do know," he pauses like he has to think about something to say. "That this car has expensive indoor seat heating a certain someone had installed for me behind my back, and the bus doesn't."
It's something light between them and Robert nearly smiles.
"You shouldn't have to go and - and be near the hospital. It's got nothing to do with ya." Robert shakes. "It shouldn't be your problem."
And Aaron just gulps. "Yeah. Well you are."
Robert's eyes flicker.
"So let me help." He says and then he bites his lip. "It's only a lift." He tries and Robert blinks quickly.
He shuffles closer, and Seb starts gurgling as they edge towards Aaron.
"I'll get Seb's car seat."
It takes a second or two to start the car.
Because Robert checks a total of four times if Seb has his seatbelt on.
And then he's winding the window down and breathing out slowly.
"Hey. It's okay." Aaron whispers. "Rob, look at me." And Robert does. "We're going to be okay." And he turns towards Seb and smiles faintly. "Do you trust me?"
And Robert isn't sure of a lot of things, but he's sure that Aaron is someone he can trust.
He nods slowly.
He feels Aaron's hand over his as he turns the key and there's a soft rubble as the car starts moving.
Robert feels his chest twist and Aaron switches the radio on.
"Let's go then." He says, clears his throat.
Robert blows out a breath, shallow, yet steady.
And he gasps a little as Aaron slides a hand onto his thigh, leaves it resting there for the whole journey.
So steady and reassuring and -
Robert can't imagine him letting go.
"I'll come and pick you up when you're ready." Aaron says, rolling into a place near the front of the hospital.
Seb's gurgling in the back seat and Robert frowns at Aaron. "You don't have to." He says heavily. "I mean it Aaron." He whispers, and then he looks down at the hand still on his thigh.
Aaron stares down at it too and then he's slowly moving it away and gulping hard.
The journey there had been slow and steady and Robert had to ask Aaron to stop a few times.
Because he didn't trust himself.
He thought something would happen because of him and -
Aaron's putting his hand back where it was and Robert's eyes flicker as a warmth travels through him.
"Just ring me when you want to come home."
And Robert, despite everything, nods.
Seb's asleep on the way back.
He'd fallen asleep on Robert's lap like a little puppy as Robert winced at the sound of the machines and heard the doctors say,
Aaron's driving slower this time, like he's more cautious about terrifying the life out of Robert and having to swerve off the road or something any time soon.
It's darker outside now and Robert's eyes keep flickering towards Seb in the back seat.
When he looks back, they're at a traffic light and Aaron's face is illuminating red as he stares at Robert.
He looks like he wants to say something, like he's trying to dare himself.
Only, Robert knows him too well.
"No change." He forces out.
Aaron looks down, looks gutted for a second and then the lights are changing and he's driving through.
"I'm sorry." He says.
And Robert feels his body shaking a little as Aaron looks at him and not at the road.
"Aaron." He says hastily, and Aaron swears, apologises, and then he's looking straight at the road and not staring at Robert like -
Like he's taken pity on him.
He keeps one hand on the gear stick though, and as they drive over a hump in the road, Robert reaches out and grabs it without thinking.
And Aaron lets out a small shaky breath when they touch, and neither of them can ignore it.
The moon's up when they drive back into the village and Robert suddenly feels guilty as the engine dies.
"You've wasted the whole day on me." Robert drops his head, doesn't know why he even let this happen.
And then he watches Chas clear empty glasses from the benches outside and he feels his heart rate jump.
"Not really." Aaron says heavily, looks down. "You needed someone to -"
"But it shouldn't have had to be you." Robert says, his whole body shaking and his voice loud enough to make Seb start to stir.
Aaron's eyes flicker, and he doesn't say a damn word.
"Best mates." He says, raises his hand feebly and bulls it into a fist for Robert to bump.
He hates that, hates the way Aaron used to be so pally with him when they used to be hapless boyfriends.
He looks up at him, sees just Aaron, just Aaron and he doesn't need to do this but he knows he won't be able to stop him.
"Best mates help each other. And I want to help you Rob." His eyes give all his warmth away. "And 'im." He sniffs out, eyes flickering to the baby in the back. "So you need me, any time, to take ya anywhere then -"
"Even if I freak out and make you mad?" Robert whispers and Aaron nods slowly, and he raises his fist up again and shakes it a little.
"Don't leave me 'anging." He says and Robert scoffs, raises his fist and bumps it against Aaron's.
He holds it in place for a second and Aaron's just staring at him until Robert can't breathe.
"It's going to get better." Aaron promises him, and Robert nods heavily.
And then he's getting Seb out of the car and shuffling towards the door and Aaron walks him there like he needs help.
"If you need to talk -"
And Robert just pulls a face. "Not yet." He says, "Not when I don't -"
Know if Rebecca is even going to be here tomorrow.
Know if I can handle being a dad to Seb.
Aaron nods his head. "The offer still stands though, about the car rides." And Robert shuts his eyes for a second.
"Thanks." He says. "You didn't have to do that but - it felt better with you there." And he can't describe the way Aaron looks at him.
All he knows is that it feels like an out of turn comment to make.
"Sorry. Uh -" and Alex is at the door of the pub, waving hello like the nice little doctor he is and Aaron just nods.
"Text me yeah?" Aaron says, makes Robert nod his head before he's waving goodbye and Robert's unlocking the door and getting Seb's bottle ready.
Vic's better at keeping tabs than he is. So she knows that Rebecca's not getting any worse which is good.
They don't think she's brain dead and the information sends Robert over the edge in a good way. It makes him dive off and be relieved and -
It makes him come that little bit closer towards reality too. He has a shower, leaves Seb with Vic and actually cleans himself properly.
Hands through hair wash sort of time on his hands.
It makes him realise that he's not been helping Vic at all.
His little sister, brother and husband on the run and another brother cut off from the world.
He's doing a big shop for her.
"You don't have to do that." She turns her nose up at, bouncing Seb on her waist and frowning.
"Yeah I do." He says, pulls his shoes on and then she's saying something about David's being on lock down.
He hears something about bananas and a spillage and Jacob being clumsy and he doesn't listen to anymore.
Doesn't care really.
Only it's ruined his plans and he sighs hard against the realisation.
"There's a Tesco just outside of Hotton." And suddenly he wonders if Vic knows about his fear of driving, if this is some sort of test?
Robert pales a little, gulps hard and suddenly he's dreaming again and he's distracting Aaron in the car and they hit something and -
It's his fault.
He blinks the memory away and gulps hard. She's staring at him and he feels himself nod slowly before she's passing Seb over to him.
"I've got work. You'll have to take him." Vic's saying, flying out the door basically and he sighs hard as he holds Seb against him.
He didn't want to put him in danger.
Because that's what he'll do and -
He fights against himself as he stands in his living room.
In the end, he's leaving.
With Seb and his car keys.
And the air is hitting him hard as he goes.
And he struggles because his keys fall onto the ground and he can't manage to pick them up before Aaron's doing it for him.
In one swift swoop.
He passes them over without saying anything and suddenly Robert doesn't want to take them.
Instead he's holding Seb towards his chest and shaking his head and saying no without saying anything at all.
And Aaron steps forward, looks towards the Mill like he needs to go back and then he's even closer.
"Hospital?" He says, voice a little croaky and he frowns when Robert shakes his head.
And then he's placing a hand on Robert's lower back because Robert's managed to whisper, "Shopping."
In the smallest voice he can.
And Seb's this small gentle thing on his chest as Robert brings the seatbelt down and presses it protectively against his son.
And yeah, Aaron's hand is on his thigh all over again.
(The whole way there.)
Aaron comes inside with him, doesn't freak out when Robert pushes the door open wide and has to catch his breath a little as his feet touch the ground.
It had taken less than fifteen minutes to get there but Robert had been more than a little overwhelmed.
He'd been terrified, felt sick as he sat there and waited for something to happen.
Only it didn't.
"Did you say you were making a cake?" Aaron's asking, he's holding the trolley and Robert's holding Seb, he knows he should have bought his pram, doesn't know how he would have managed the shopping if Aaron wasn't here to be honest.
The thought travels through him as Aaron's reaching up to grab at some flour.
It makes something get stuck in his throat and it takes a few seconds before Robert can lean over and help him get it off the shelf.
Aaron blushes a little, looks up and Robert is so close to him.
They could kiss.
If they weren't best friends.
The heaviness of it all makes Robert jump back and Seb's wriggling around on his shoulder and making everything a little light again.
And Robert, he's sure he sees Aaron smile faintly at his little fella.
He is making Vic a cake, to say thank you, to say that he's grateful despite how heavy everything is at the moment still.
He blinks out a small smile as he thinks about how amazing she's been when she could have easily turned her back on him.
She could have, he wouldn't have blamed her.
He's trapped in his thoughts so much that he doesn't notice Aaron diving over a dip in the road and suddenly his heart is jolting a little.
He leaps a little, feels the seatbelt stretch forward along with his body and he's suddenly regretting the way he's strapped Sebastian to his chest.
Because he's shaken, starts whimpering and wobbling his chest and wailing and -
"Shit Seb." Robert says shakily, "I'm sorry mate." He whispers. "I'm sorry." He gulps hard and there's this wave of sudden sadness coming over him.
He's embarrassed, because Aaron keeps looking over at him, keeps looking concerned and he's not looking at the road.
"Is he -" and Aaron doesn't even know what to say.
And then he's pulling over.
He's on the edge of the road and Seb's screaming now, won't even listen to Robert's soothing voice.
"Mate it's okay." Robert's trying, again and again. He can see Aaron scrolling through his phone out of the corner of his eye and before he can ask what he's doing, he can hear the sound of music playing.
Not just any old music either.
Aaron Dingle somehow has 'You've got a friend in me' from Toy Story on his phone and he's pressing some buttons feebly before the music is all around the car.
Robert's eyes widen and he's laughing, he's laughing for the first time in too long.
And Seb's not crying anymore.
Aaron bites his lip, engine still running and a soft look on his face.
"Toy Story?" Robert's asking, pulling his arms further around Seb and holding him tighter.
Aaron blushes. "Yeah well," he shrugs. "Just typed in some Disney playlist or whatever." He waves his hands around and then looks down at Seb. "It's done the trick." He says, blinks quickly and then he's looking away almost like he has to.
And he does, Robert thinks, he really does.
The song ends and Seb starts moaning a little and Aaron puts it back as he starts driving again.
They're nearly back by the time Robert decides to be an idiot. "How's Alex?" He asks and Aaron sort of doesn't even respond.
He just tilts his head a certain way and then clears his throat. "Good." He says, "We both are ... good."
Robert nods slowly, feels a warmth through him for a second and then his eyes flicker. "I'm happy." And Aaron frowns. "That you're happy."
And everything seems to just die away around them until they're back in the village.
"I know you're having a shit time." Aaron says to Robert, engine dying and Seb wriggling about as if he knows he's home now. "I know that you're scared, probably feel guilty or - or selfish or whatever for having me sat here right now." He pulls a face and then gulps. "But I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be."
And Robert feels his heart do something funny as he looks down, doesn't know what to say.
Still doesn't as he holds Seb over his shoulder and watches Aaron bring in the bags for him.
He doesn't know what's right to say because Aaron being here is helping more than Robert wants to admit.
But it isn't fair on him, not deep down. It's taking him away from Alex, and Liv, and the life he leads without his ex husband and his sprog -
But he sees Aaron staring at Seb who's laying out on the sofa and he doesn't look like his heart aches anymore and -
"You could always help me make Vic a cake - if you - if you're not too busy?"
He suddenly finds what to say.
His smile is his agreement.
The cake gets him a hug and a strange look.
"Can't believe you made this." Vic's got her feet up on the sofa, tucked underneath a purple cushion and there's a low hum of the telethon in the background as Robert watches her stick a fork in the middle of the cake and shake her head.
It's actually rather a massive achievement considering he's not the best baker and Aaron's even worse.
"Well start believing, me and Aaron spent a good few hours on that and -"
And that makes the fork fall down the side somehow.
And Robert hears the sound it makes as it slams against the plate.
"You and Aaron?"
And Robert's jaw tenses. "Yeah. Me and Aaron." And it's always going to sound like something more isn't it?
There's always this burst of electricity filtering through whenever someone actually says their names together like that.
Only Robert ignores that now.
Vic pulls a face. "He was here?"
And Robert's not going to lie. "He gave me and Seb a lift." He shrugs his shoulders and Vic nods.
"That's nice of him." She mulls it over, stretches a hand through her pony tail and then raises her eyebrows. "That's really nice of him."
And Robert just nods back, eyes on the baby monitor and a low rumble in his stomach.
He makes a grab for another slice of cake, closes his eyes and sees Aaron stirring the cake mix too quickly instead of Rebecca laying there on the motorway - half dead.
The next time Seb wails for Rebecca, Robert's less of a muppet about it.
He texts Aaron and asks if he's free.
And he is, and Robert's standing outside the Mill with Seb in his car seat ready to go.
He sees Liv and Gerry approaching him with frowns on their faces and he has to suck in a breath and try to prepare himself for the grilling.
"Can we help ya?" Liv's asking, and her tone is different to how it used to be. Before the crash, before she saw Robert sobbing his heart out on the hospital floor and blaming himself. The harshness is forceful, lacks any sort of lasting bite.
He looks at her and sees she's grown without him even knowing. It makes him gulp hard.
"Waiting for Aaron." He says, because he decided last night that whatever this was, wasn't a secret.
Gerry pulls a face and makes a playful sound. "Is that are cue to leave then Olivia." And he taps her arm, turns to start walking away but Liv just keeps her eyes on Robert.
"Why?" She's asking, eyes flickering a little as she sees Seb. "Where are you going?"
And Robert sighs, he goes to speak and then Aaron's walking towards them all.
"Just dropping him off at the hospital Liv." He says to her, shakes his head. "No big deal."
But she has the right to make it a big deal, Robert supposes.
"What's wrong with his car?" She's asking as Aaron walks towards his car and motions for Robert to click Seb's car seat into place.
"Not now Liv." He waves a hand up and gets in the car.
The last thing Robert hears from her is,
"Does Alex know about this?"
And he feels ten times worse than before.
They don't speak a lot the way there but Robert can feel Aaron's mind working over time.
He's driving a little faster too and Robert has to place an arm on Aaron's shoulder to slow him down a little.
"Shit, sorry." Aaron says suddenly, bites his lip and gulps hard.
Robert just stays silent until he's standing over Rebecca in her room and forcing a smile.
"Seb's missing ya." Robert tells her and almost on queue Seb's gurgling. It makes Robert smile a little. "So you need to open your eyes for us."
And she just lays there.
"Move a finger, do something." He pleads, and he thinks he sees her finger raise.
It makes his heart jump.
"Nurse?" He's saying, breath ragged as he looks down at Seb and then at the door. A blonde woman walks in, and he explains what he saw.
It's nothing but a spasm.
To be 'expected' apparently.
And all the blood drains from his body.
He's moved four steps back.
He doesn't mean to slam the door the way he does.
He sees Aaron jump at the sound of it and he apologises softly before passing him over the coffee he's bought him.
"Cheers." Aaron mumbles before he's pressing his head back against the seat and gulping hard as he sips. "Did something happen?"
And Robert just bites his lip. "Thought I saw her finger move." He barely says, grips his coffee tighter. "It wasn't anything though." He sighs heavily, and Aaron says he's sorry. "Don't be."
But Aaron shuffles a little in the seat and sighs. "Can't help it." He says, like he's caught up in Robert's eyes.
It makes Robert bring him back to reality.
"I'm sorry if you get any stick for being here." And he means it, he genuinely does. Because he didn't want that to happen, he didn't want Aaron being torn from his everyday life like that.
Aaron pulls a face, shrugs. "I don't have to answer to anyone." He says heavily.
"Course." He nods, presses a hand against his thigh. "But Alex -"
And somehow, Robert wasn't expecting that.
"Oh. That's - that's good."
And then Aaron's finishing his coffee. "See him sometimes when I'm waiting for ya to come out."
Robert smiles at that a little, relieved for a reason he doesn't quite know.
An unexpected bump in the road makes Seb start to wail.
And he doesn't flipping stop.
Because Robert lunges forward, scared suddenly and Aaron has to calm him down somehow.
And he knows how to.
"Hey, Seb. Get your listening ears round this." He says softly, eyes on the road as he presses a button or two on his car radio.
It takes seconds for 'You've got a friend in me' to start working its magic and the crying stops.
It turns into whimpers until another Disney song rolls on and Robert looks at Aaron.
"A playlist?" He asks, suddenly absolutely touched if it's true and -
"Stopped the tears didn't it?"
And that's a yes.
It makes Robert bite his lip and smile and feel a soft sense of lightness.
He welcomes it.
Vic's hit a low point, and he knows she has because when he comes into the living room she's watching Love Actually and hugging a tub of ice cream.
She doesn't say much, just says Adam and he winces for her.
Because he can't even begin to imagine how empty she must be feeling without him.
"Let me make you something to eat." He offers, sits on the edge of the sofa and smiles faintly at her.
But she needs space and Robert knows that means he needs to leave her alone.
He's daring himself to venture out and head to the pub.
Diane's there with Doug when he arrives, and he's thankful that Seb's decided to fall fast asleep as he slides into the booth next to them and they start asking questions.
"Is he a good baby then?" Doug's peering over, inspecting Seb like he's some enzyme in a lab. It makes Robert stretch his body a little so that Seb's being covered.
"Uh - I suppose." He says, because how the hell is he supposed to know that. The distraction of Doug's idiocy makes it hard for Robert to see everyone looking at him.
But when he does raise his head, it's obvious.
He gulps hard and begins shuffling on his feet.
"Maybe I shouldn't be here." Because no one actually really knows what happened that day.
Just that Belle shopped Lachlan to the police and they charged him with their murders - didn't even think to let him out on bail.
Because he'd tugged at the wheel?
He'd purposely wanted everyone to hurt and Robert - he didn't want that.
"Nonsense." Diane says, all motherly and kind and Robert tries to relax into some easy conversation when Chas comes towards him and whispers something in his ear.
"Can I have a word?"
And the word takes place at the bar, because she's rushed off her feet apparently.
"Liv reckons you and Aaron have been going out a lot recently." And Robert really doesn't need this on top of absolutely everything else.
His face shows that.
"He's been driving me to the hospital. To see Seb's mum."
It creates distance when he says it like that.
Chas' eyes flicker, like she doesn't get it.
And then Liv's sighting them as she comes in and he can't handle the scrutiny.
Not when he's done nothing wrong.
"So what's happened to your car?" Liv's asking, arms folded as Robert tries to get his words out.
"Nothing." He shrugs, "I just -"
"Want to be around him?" Liv asks, and then sighs. "I knew it. You're trying to get him back again aren't you?"
And his eyes widen because no he's not.
"He's being a mate. We said we would be - that's - all." He's becoming animated now and then Chas is asking what's wrong with a taxi and he's just -
"I don't trust a stupid taxi driver - I don't - don't trust me okay so -"
"Trust yourself to do what?"
"Not crash my car and kill my son!" And it's just the sort of crazy outburst everyone was expecting from him really.
He closes his eyes for a second and feels the pressure build.
Everything bubbling up and up and up and when he opens them, Seb's crying and Diane can't settle him.
"Give him here." He says, hands shaking.
His eyes keep flickering as he passes everyone and then notices Aaron standing by the door.
He's got tears in his eyes, looks angry and sorry.
"Rob, I didn't -"
"Bye Aaron." He whispers as he passes him.
And it doesn't take long until he's hearing -
"Keep your nose out!"
"Alex already knows so now what?"
"He's a mate and I care about him."
And it's just all too much.
Aaron says sorry and he doesn't need to.
"It's alright." Robert waves a hand up. "Honest." He says, only it falls flat a little.
And everything is a little heavy until Aaron waves his hand up and there's a key in his hand.
"The whole taxi service still stands." Aaron says quickly.
"Is that a good -"
"Yep." Aaron says, "I'll get Seb's car seat set up."
And Robert just nods slowly.
Aaron comes to the rescue of some old woman named Beryl who's broken down on the country lane and Robert watches him deal with her from the car.
He realises that he feel safe being in the car now and that's a soft progress he thinks.
The sound of the cars coming by stops and he watches Beryl squeeze Aaron's shoulder and thank him and then she's saying,
"A lovely little boy you've got there." And she's pointing at Seb, "And he's not too bad either." She must be talking about him, Robert thinks.
It makes him blush like mad.
And Aaron just hangs his head and Robert can't tell if he's smiling or not.
All he knows is,
He isn't denying it and that's fucking dangerous.
It's rare for him to cry.
But he's emotional when he leaves Rebecca this time.
And Aaron picks up on it.
He doesn't say anything though, just starts humming along to 'You've got a Friend in Me' and Robert frowns.
"Are you humming?" Robert asks, because it's bloody unnatural.
Aaron just smirks. "You've got a friend in me." He taps on wheel and Robert starts laughing so he sings even louder.
Robert knows this is Aaron, this is the lad who Adam used to hang around with.
"What are you playing at?" Robert asks but Aaron's alive and it makes Robert's eyes glisten.
"Because none of them will ever love you the way I do." Aaron sings dreadfully and then something changes between them as they think about the line and it makes Robert gulp.
The song finishes and Robert feels lighter than he did before and -
"Cheers." He says, wiping at his eyes and Aaron just nods.
Robert's embarrassed really.
Because Seb decided that as soon as they had to leave Rebecca, he would scream out his anger at it.
Until they're in the car again and Aaron winces under the weight of the sound.
"Is he alright?"
And Robert's blinking back his dream last night.
The one where Seb wouldn't stop crying until he was red in the face.
The one where only Rebecca could come and soothe him.
The one where Seb recoiled at the touch of his own daddy.
"No he's not." Robert says too quickly, and he's shaking a little as he looks down at Seb.
He's wailing, just wailing and Aaron's decided to stop the car.
"Is he - hungry or something?" Aaron's babbling on and Robert just keeps shaking his head because he doesn't want him.
He doesn't want to be in his arms does he?
"No. He just - " 'He doesn't want me.'
Aaron gulps hard, and he's pressing buttons against the radio but it's not working.
"Shit it must be busted or -" and then he presses hard and a faint Disney song begins to play, only to be cut out again by the sound of Seb crying.
"He didn't want to leave her." Robert's saying, shaking his head. "That's why he's crying. He wants her, he doesn't want me." And -
He's got tears in his eyes. He hasn't cried like this for ages.
"That's not true." He hears Aaron so, all passionately. "Rob -"
"I made his mum's life hell! I killed - killed his auntie, his grandad. I did that. I - "
"That wasn't your fault, listen to -"
But Robert can't hear him suddenly, he just pulls Seb out in front of him and stares at his little frame. He's so fragile, he's so dependent and Robert's managed to take so much from him already and -
"I can't do this."
He mumbles, leaning back and placing Seb in his car seat before running out of the car and breathing hard and fast near the forest.
He can't hear anything for a while, just stretches his hands out down towards the floor and relishes in his sturdy it is.
It's there. It's solid.
He's here too.
Something awful stretches over his chest and he almost realises that he's having some sort of panic attack.
And it's the worst feeling in the world because he can't stop it even if he wanted to.
It just goes on and on and he has to fight the pressure against his chest, tilt his head up and close his eyes and -
He doesn't see Rebecca's face anymore, all he sees is Seb's.
And it clicks in his mind, what he's done.
He just left Seb in the car with Aaron.
And he shouldn't have done that because Aaron's not been left alone with him before and he could be freaking out under the weight of looking after a tiny human.
He could be so scared?
The thoughts drag Robert out of his panic and soon he's staggering back towards the car. He's walking slow enough, cautiously enough, to not be seen. But as he approaches the car, suddenly he can't hear any crying at all.
Instead, he hears the faint sound of the Disney music playing and he sees -
Aaron's got Seb awkwardly in his arms.
It makes everything inside Robert tingle.
He's holding him way higher than he needs to be and Robert can't help but wonder when's the last time he held a baby so small? Because everyone knows that Isaac is the Goliath baby out of the two.
He can't rip his eyes away from them, just keeps staring and staring as Aaron looks down at Seb's little body.
"See. No more tears now eh?" Aaron whispers shakily, pulls a hand over Seb's head and when the boy gurgles he pulls away quickly. "Okay buddy, no touching your head then." He says, blows out a breath.
Robert can't believe his eyes and it's weird to say because Aaron's been nothing but supportive to them both.
He never ever had to do this for them.
"Daddy's just had to go and have a bit of a moment to himself, that's all." Aaron's saying, eyes filled with tears. "He needs one or two of them. Moments, to - to get his head round things." He nods his head a little and then gulps. "But he loves you so much."
Robert gulps steadily, walks a little further and then stops.
"He's the best daddy for ya, he is." Aaron whispers, and then another song rolls on. "Oi, I'm glad you're not dissing my Disney playlist anymore, I made that for ya." He says, sniffs a little and then he's holding Seb a little closer yet looser at the same time and he's easing in to it. "It's okay." He says, and then -
He's kissing at Seb's forehead and everything stops moving.
For a second, Aaron is just looking down at the little man, and he's stroking his little nose and Seb's gurgling softly and -
Robert steps on a stone and the sound makes Aaron look up.
And they just stare at each other.
The wind picks up suddenly and everything else does to because Seb starts babbling a little and Robert has to look down at him.
Aaron just shudders and then he's blushing just a little.
"I - he was -"
And Robert's eyes widen, keep widening until Seb's in his arms and Aaron is asking if he's okay now.
He just nods.
And then Aaron's getting out of the car and following them. "Rob, get back in the car and -"
"Taken up too much of your time." He says, just keeps walking and he'll walk the whole way back.
Aaron frowns. "Wait but -"
"You've got a job on in half an hour." Robert says hastily, and he knows because he heard Vic say something about it earlier.
Aaron can't even deny it.
"Don't be late because of me."
"But you - you just had a - 'Panic Attack'
"Bye Aaron." He says and he'll forget it if he needs to.
He'll forget Seb in Aaron's arms and how whole it made him feel.
Robert's ignoring it.
He's pretending like it didn't happen and going about his days.
Aaron's suddenly busy at the scrapyard and so he doesn't see him for a few days.
He takes the bus to the hospital instead and finds himself having to hum a few Disney songs to settle Seb.
Because he's even more grisly now, almost like he knows how much his dad's heart hurts.
"I'm trying my best mate." He says, sitting in Rebecca's room and then staring at her.
They're saying that they'll try to ease her out of the coma in a few days.
And he's hoping that it will work out.
"Mummy's going to be awake soon. I promise." And then his eyes glass over. "And then you won't have to put with your dad anymore."
It's not like he purposely walks in on a massive scene or anything, but he does.
It starts as he approaches the pub. Diane's managed to convince him that she'll have Seb for a few hours whilst he keeps Vic company at work.
He's climbing the steps when he sees a frazzled Alex exit the pub, head down and face sad.
He sort of doesn't see Robert coming, nearly bumps into him and then he's just staring at him for a few seconds.
"Are you okay?" Robert's got a frown on his face, suddenly confused.
Alex just raises his head and raises an eyebrow. "I will be yeah." He says, all mysterious and Robert is still frowning. "I hope everything works out." He shrugs, like he doesn't want to mean it, yet does.
Robert watches him walk past him and turns. "They're thinking of taking her out of the coma in a -"
"I didn't mean Rebecca." Alex says, and there's a finality in his eyes which shakes Robert as the man disappears from his sight.
He keeps frowning for a few more seconds until he walks inside the pub and he's met with a frustrated scene.
"But why? You were doing great with him." Chas sighs hard and then frowns. "Let me take a wild guess? Sugden?"
And Aaron's chin wobbles, everyone is focused on him and Robert doesn't dare go through the doors. He just hangs back and hears it all.
"I haven't seen him for days." Aaron hisses, and Robert can hear the sound in his voice.
And then Liv,
"Exactly. Do you miss him?" She's asking and Robert doesn't hear Aaron say anything.
Instead there's these rush of feet and as Robert pushes the door open, Aaron pulls and they bump straight into each other.
"Aaron ..." Robert whispers and Aaron's got tears in his eyes as he passes him.
Robert doesn't want to follow him, but he does.
"Aaron? I just want to know if you're okay." Robert says, because Aaron's slammed the door of the Mill shut and Robert's having to speak through a door.
He doesn't hear anything back until Aaron's slowly opening the door and biting at his lip.
"I'm fine." But he's lying.
"You're not." And Robert only has to look at him.
Aaron drops his head and sighs hard. "It was always going to happen."
And Robert knows.
They've broken up.
He doesn't even know how to feel about it.
"Doesn't mean you can't be sad." Robert whispers, hands in his pockets and Aaron doesn't say anything, just opens the door further and Robert comes inside, sits on the familiar sofa and hogs the orange cushion which Aaron always said he hated.
Aaron sits next to him slowly. "I'd been moody for days, taking it out on him. He'd been too understanding and I let him down." He shudders.
"Don't think like that." Robert tells him. "You - you were -"
"Thinking of you." Aaron's chin wobbles. "And Seb. And how I held him." He frowns and Robert is so sorry.
"Aaron," he frowns. "Aaron, I never ever meant to hurt you." He stands. "I - I knew it was a bad idea, I knew -"
Aaron just shakes his head. "Don't blame yourself. I knew what I was doing. I let it happen."
And Robert frowns. "Let what happen?" He says steadily.
Aaron just cries. "Let me fall in love with your little boy."
And Robert feels everything stop.
Because he's seen the looks and the softness and Aaron hating when Seb was upset but -
"I should go." Robert says, backs towards the door and wipes at his face, at the tears. "I'm so sorry."
And he leaves before Aaron can say anything else he doesn't mean.
Robert takes Seb to see the ducks in the park and he hears his son babble about them from his pram.
"You like them do ya?" He says, and for a second his mind isn't on Aaron and what he foolishly sad the night before.
He's still thinking about it though, how heavy it was, how much it meant and how wrong he'd been.
"Aaron said some things yesterday." Robert tells Seb, they're sitting on a bench and Seb's falling asleep. "About you. He was wrong though, I'm sorry." He bites his lip. "I never wanted to upset him. Or you. But we'll just give him space won't we? And then he'll work things out with Alex and it'll be - be okay."
It has to be.
Robert's not avoiding Aaron.
He's really not.
But he does want to leave when he sees him coming into David's whilst he's browsing the smoked salmon and wondering if it'll go nice with brown bread.
He can't though, because Aaron sort of waves awkwardly and Robert holds his breath.
Seb's asleep in the pram thankfully so he can't reach out for Aaron's had and make things worse.
"Vic said you'd been out early." Aaron's chewing at his gum. "I came over but - you weren't there." He frowns. "I needed to talk to you."
Robert gulps hard. "About what?' He whispers, and it builds up inside of him suddenly.
"Last night. What I said - I -"
"You didn't mean it." Robert tells him, and he feels cold suddenly. "Your head was all over the place, Alex had - you'd just broke up with him." He shakes his head. "You -"
And he doesn't want to see how hurt Aaron looks, but when he lifts his head he can't help but stare at the redness around his eyes and how puffy his face is.
He expects Aaron to say something, but he just looks away and the time stretches between them.
"I'm sorry for everything Aaron, I never wanted -"
But Aaron just wipes at his face and clears his throat. "See you around." He barely gets out and Robert feels even emptier.
The doctor's ring the next day, and they say it's time and they think they'll try to get her out of the coma today and he prays that she'll be able to have Seb on her chest by the afternoon.
"Hopefully after work I'll be able to come and see her." Vic's saying, pulling her coat on and smiling. Robert nods along as she speaks and then stops when she mentions Aaron. "Isn't he going to drop you?"
Because she doesn't know about what happened, he doesn't want her to know.
"No." Robert forces out, and he's done a lot of thinking really.
He knows that them being mates isn't working, it can't work.
"No, he's - he's busy." Robert shakes his head and moves past his sister to get Seb's bottle. "It's fine though, I'll get the bus."
Vic looks unimpressed and he doesn't have the time to stand here and talk to her about it. She gives in though, and he's grateful as she squeezes him and kisses Seb's head and then leaves.
She's gone and Rebecca's on his mind again.
What if she doesn't wake up? What if she dies?
A knock on the door claws Robert away from his thoughts and when he answers it, Aaron's there with Vic standing behind him.
His instinct tells him to shut the door for some reason, to just let Aaron be.
But Vic doesn't let him.
She's pushing Aaron in and crossing her arms.
"Turns out he wasn't busy. Had no clue what I was on about actually. Good thing I caught him."
Yeah, good thing.
Robert gulps hard and Aaron is finally looking at him. "I could drive ya, I - I really don't mind."
But Robert just shakes his head. "Yeah, well I do." He's saying heavily and Vic frowns as the silence drags over them.
"Will one of ya just flipping speak." Vic's got her arms folded again and Robert just needs to leave with Seb and see Rebecca and forget everything.
"I can't. I've got to go and see Rebecca." Robert says, "Sorry." He says heavily.
"Let Aaron take -"
"No. It's not fair, just - just leave it." Robert pushes, he decides that he needs to be like this. He needs to push and push until Aaron hates him like he used to.
Aaron blinks quickly. "Rob, I wouldn't be here if I didn't -"
"Yeah you care. I finally believe that again and I - I don't want it because it's too -"
"I don't need you here Aaron." He shouts and Aaron's eyes widen as Vic looks like she's about to cry for them both.
"You don't -"
"So just leave me alone."
'Just save yourself from me, please Aaron.'
But everyone just stays where they are and Robert wants to scream, tell them that they have no idea what he's thinking, that they can't help and -
He makes some bold statement instead, he takes Seb, takes his car keys and goes.
He can hear Aaron's shouting, telling him to stop.
He's slamming on the car window and he looks terrified as he stares wide eyes at Seb and shakes his head.
Robert rips his eyes away and shakily buckles his belt.
He can do this.
He doesn't need Aaron.
He doesn't need to drag him down like this.
He starts the engine, ignores Aaron pounding at the window and presses down, watches the car move steadily.
His heart is beating out of his chest again and again and again and he feels sick.
But he keeps going, because he needs to do this. He needs to get past this.
Only Seb starts crying because he knows that Robert is panicking.
And rain starts falling and Robert's brain is saying: NoNoNo.
Because he's going to crash, he's going to crash and -
He gets close to their lay-by and then he's stopping suddenly because he can't bring himself to go any further.
The engine is still running and he's failed and Rebecca needs him because she's going to work up any minute and Seb is crying his eyes out.
"It's okay." Robert turns and stares down at him. "I promise." He says despite the way he's crying, despite how his head falls down on the wheel and he can barely breathe.
The rain keeps falling, it's getting heavier and heavier and Seb's only getting worse.
And before Robert actually knows it, his phone is out and he's ringing him.
He can't help himself.
"Rob? Robert, tell me you're not driving - tell -"
He holds his breath and then it all pours out. "I'm so sorry - so - sorry. I'm at the lay-by - I couldn't go any more." Robert has tears falling down his face. "I was - was too scared." He's shaking his head over and over again and then Aaron's telling him not to go anywhere, and he can hear him running.
He can hear Aaron surrounded by rain just like he is and maybe he was already looking for him? Maybe he was searching in the rain for his stupid ex husband and -
It takes less than ten minutes before Robert opens the door for Aaron.
And Aaron kneels down, shaky hands switch the engine off and he's crying with the rain.
"Oh God." He says, like he's so relieved suddenly.
And he pulls his head down on Robert's lap for a second.
He's so vulnerable suddenly, and Robert can't help but place his hands over Aaron's head and they stay like that for a few seconds before Aaron raises his head.
"You scared me." Aaron's chin is wobbling and he frowns before he looks at Seb.
"I scared me." Robert whispers back, and Seb's stopped crying now. He's closing his eyes and wriggling into a more comfortable position and Robert feels heavy again. "I could have killed him."
And he's dangerous.
So he pushes past Aaron and battles against the intensity of the rain as he goes.
But Aaron won't let him, he won't let him get past the car. They just stand there by the door of the car and Robert hates how much Aaron cares.
"You're not running anymore." Aaron shakes his head. "I won't let it happen." He says and Robert just sighs.
"He doesn't need me." Robert has to shout over the rain. "No one needs me." He frowns and then Aaron's holding him by his shirt and they're so close.
"He does. He does need ya." Aaron frowns. "You're brilliant." He blurts out and Robert's eyes widening.
"You don't mean it. You didn't mean what you -"
"I love you!" Aaron shrugs out, looks like he means it so much and that aches.
Because Robert really had convinced himself that no feelings like that lived in Aaron's heart anymore.
"You don't -"
"Don't tell me how to feel you idiot!" Aaron slaps against Robert's chest. "I - I know. I've always known, I -"
"It's because you've been close to me, because -"
But Aaron just shakes his head. "I'm in love with you, you. I - you're it for me. I can't get passed ya, I can't -" and he's even closer, and the rain is still falling and -
"I just want ya back." Aaron's almost pleading and Robert can say anything because he feels all this heat move inside of him and then Aaron's booking him closer by the waist and -
The way Aaron kisses him feels like he's coming home to something.
It's familiar and kind and filled with a sense of longing and happinesses and then Robert looks at him. He wants to know that he isn't dreaming and when Aaron nods his head, Robert deepens everything and they're horny teenagers falling back on a car and trying to catch their breath.
They only stop when Vic starts ringing Aaron and it makes them jump apart. Only, Robert keeps his hands on Aaron's face as he tells Vic they're fine.
"Now what?" Aaron pants out, looks like he doesn't want this to ever ever end.
Robert gulps hard, eyes blinking quickly. "Nothing's changed." He says and Aaron looks heartbroken. "I'm still - still Seb's dad. I'm still going to see Rebecca and hope she wakes up."
Aaron frowns against his words. "I spent so long - so long trying to pretend it didn't hurt anymore." And Robert looks away until Aaron holds his chin. "And then it went away all by itself." He shrugs and Robert's eyes flicker. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy but -"
"You said you loved him." Robert whispers as he looks at Seb through the window.
Aaron turns red. "And I meant it. It took - took so much for me to say that and you didn't even -"
And Robert presses his forehead against Aaron's. "I didn't want to believe you could actually -"
Robert nods and then Aaron's holding his hand and guiding him towards where Seb is.
"Move his car seat into the back." Aaron's saying and the rain starts to die down as Robert stares at him.
"You're going to -"
And Aaron nods. "Come on, they might be trying to wake her up now."
Yeah he'll never stop loving Aaron Dingle.
Because Aaron comes in with him.
And he holds his hand whilst Robert holds Seb's.
And they keep waiting and waiting until they hear:
'She's breathing on her own.'
"I could go." Aaron's whispering, he's still holding Robert's hand and he's promised he won't let go if Robert doesn't want him to.
"I don't want you to." Robert says shakily, because yeah she's breathing on her own but she's got such a long way to go until she's holding Seb again. "I don't want you to ever leave me again." He's suddenly honest and Aaron looks like his heart is going to break a little before he's kissing at Robert's cheek.
And everything goes tender.
"I won't." He says heavily. "I promise."
He promises, and maybe as he does so, he pours a little love out because when Robert looks up, Vic's standing there looking at them.
She doesn't say anything, just smiles, has tears in her eyes and she's as subtle as brick.
"She's awake then?" Vic's asking, sort of breaking up the moment a little.
Robert nods towards her, doesn't let go of Aaron's hand as he gulps. "I should go and see her." He says. "Before Seb does, I don't want to scare him."
Because suddenly, Seb seeing his mum awake but not able to reach him might make him worry.
And yeah, he's just a baby but -
Vic nods. "I could go in with you if you like."
Robert nods, because suddenly she might not even want to see him. She might hate him.
He wants to say thanks, but then he's looking at Aaron and he doesn't want him to have to look after Seb if he doesn't want to.
He shouldn't have to be left holding the baby.
"And I'll watch Seb." Aaron says, and he takes him from Robert's arms with a soft sort of ease. "I'll look after him." He smiles.
And Robert believes him.
And he's settled under that knowledge as he goes in and sees Rebecca.
He says he's sorry, and she hardly says anything back because she's groggy and can barely speak.
"I've been taking good care of Seb. I promise you."
She smiles faintly and frowns.
"He's outside." Robert explains. "With Aaron."
And he thinks she's still smiling faintly.
He hopes she is.
He shuffles outside again after a few minutes and Aaron's bouncing Seb a little.
He doesn't know it yet, but he's a bloody pro.
Robert watches them for a few moments, relishes in the fact that this won't be the last time Seb gets to be in Aaron's arms.
Not if Robert has anything to do with it.
Seb's comfortable with him, he always has been and Robert wants him to always find peace in Aaron's hold like Robert does.
He's getting all emotional suddenly and Aaron seems to notice his presence, he looks up and frowns.
"God, is she alright?" Aaron's thinking the worst and Robert reckons it's only in his nature.
Robert nods, sits next to Aaron slowly and holds at Seb's hand. He holds tighter and Robert melts. "She will be." He says. "She's still got a long way to go."
Because she doesn't even know the whole truth yet.
She doesn't know that her family is dead.
Vic's telling her.
Aaron nods, slides a finger over Seb's nose and then settles a little. "I won't be going anywhere." He says. "No matter what."
And Robert's eyes flicker. "But your mum, and Liv -"
"My mum wants me happy more than anything, so does Liv." He frowns just a little and then looks at Seb. "He makes me happy."
And Robert didn't expect to hear that.
"Yeah?" Robert says, and he's overwhelmed. "I never thought -"
Aaron scoffs. "Me either." He says, then he shrugs. "He's yours. I could never hate something so - made of you." And the way he looks down at Seb leaves Robert mesmerised.
"I'm not changing any nappies."
It comes a few days later.
It's Liv and she's knocking on Vic's door and crossing her arms as Robert answers.
He expects her to be angry.
But she doesn't look it. She looks like she doesn't know what to think or say, or feel.
"I don't expect you -"
She pushes past him until she's standing over the Moses basket, down at Seb.
"You sure you and Rebecca aren't -"
Robert cuts her off. "No. Of course we're not." He says, she's still recovering, it could take weeks until she's back on her feet again.
Liv turns towards him. "You said that before." She says. "This time last year in fact."
He hangs his head. "Everything's changed now."
"Because of Seb?"
Robert sighs hard. "A little. But because of how I see myself." It's cheesy, it's ridiculous but he's a different person.
He's loved and lost and felt such lows and highs over the past year that he can't help but know he's changed.
"I love your brother Liv." And she looks startled by his frankness. "And I love my son. And I never ever thought I'd get to have both like this but - I promise you," he's stupid and emotional and - "I'm going to make it all up to you."
Her face turns red and he gulps hard.
"Because I love you too." Robert whispers, a softness in the air and Liv's stubbornness seem to melt as she comes towards him and he catches her weight.
He moves back in, and everyone seems to be think it's too soon, but Aaron doesn't.
And maybe Robert will never fully be aware of how much Aaron has forgiven him, how much he has moved on from what happened.
"Oi." Aaron whispers, Seb's in his arms and Robert is just staring at them on the sofa. "You're lost in that head of yours."
Robert frowns and shakes it away. "I don't think I'll ever stop feeling the way I do." And Aaron smiles, then his face falls a little.
"How do you feel?" Aaron says, and Seb's really filled out now, it's more of a struggle to hold him when he starts to wriggle.
Robert doesn't want to ruin this, he doesn't but -
"Unworthy." He whispers.
And Aaron looks distraught, he shuffles forward and stretches a hand out to touch Robert's face.
They're soft like this.
"Rob, don't -" he breathes in steadily and looks hurt. "We moved on, this is our life now and I'm happy with you okay?"
Robert feels light headed suddenly. "You're happy?"
Aaron nods and then looks down at Seb. "I'm happy."
Robert shudders. "That's all I've ever wanted you to be."
And Aaron makes this small sound as he pulls Robert closer to him and kisses him gently.
They only break away when Liv comes down the stairs and pulls a face and then Seb starts gurgling.
"Think you two think the same." Robert mumbles as he looks at Seb and then Liv.
She blushes just a little. "Great minds." She supposes.
And Robert is in awe of this.
Three and a half years later:
It's sunny and Robert is grateful because Aaron was not going anywhere if it was raining.
Liv's not coming with them and Aaron's bawled over by it because she's actually got a part time job now and is taking it seriously.
Robert pulls the boot up and starts putting Seb's bags inside, and his toys and a change of clothes, checking thing off his mental list because Jesus Seb needs so much now he's started actually toddling about the place.
"Oi, mate come here." Aaron's chuckling as Seb starts running towards the car and Robert has to kneel down and stop him from racing towards the pub.
(Chas keeps giving him chocolate and he's not allowed as much as she shoves into his pockets with a grin.)
"Easy buddy." Robert says, watches Seb jump in his little dungarees and start gnawing on his hand like he keeps doing.
"What did me and daddy giant tell you to stop doing?"
Seb blinks quickly. "Eating hands." He says cheekily and starts waving his hands around before Robert pats at his golden hair and smiles.
"Come on, let's get you in the car." Robert goes to pick him up but he runs back to Aaron and asks where Liv has gone.
He follows her around like she's constantly going to leave him or something.
She loves him though, ever since she first held him.
"She's working buddy." Aaron tells him, and then he's picking him up and holding him on his waist and it makes Robert feel weak when he's like this. "She'll come next time though." He says, places Seb in his car seat and shuts the door.
Robert catches him as he turns around and smiles. Aaron's wearing a pair of jeans and a striped top but he looks amazing and Robert can't help but kiss him.
"What's that for?" Aaron's blushing, smiling a little.
Robert shrugs. "I'm mad for ya. Still, you know." He mumbles and Aaron is still blushing.
"Ditto." He says playfully, hands falling over Robert's chest.
They only break away when Seb starts slamming on the window and asking if they can go.
Robert chuckles and then he's sliding into the car and turning the engine on.
He doesn't even know why but suddenly he's remembering how long it took for him to sit here again.
For him to take the wheel and let Aaron sit next to him, hand on his thigh, drawing soft circles into his skin.
He still does that now.
All these years later.
Aaron must feel it too, leans over and kisses Robert's cheek.
It makes Robert stare at him and smile. There's an easiness about their life now which Robert thinks they've gained over the years because of their heartbreak and misery.
And he welcomes it with all his heart.
Because yeah, Rebecca doesn't live in the village anymore but she still sees Seb during the week.
He lives with her for the majority of the time, on the outskirts of Hotten because the village reminds her of her family, dead.
It took Robert an age to get used to that. But he picks Seb up from school everyday, has him over the weekends too.
And Rebecca's moved on. She's engaged to some humble painter and decorator called Will and he's good for her.
He's good for Seb too.
Aaron did as well and that meant a lot.
"Love you." Robert mumbles, gulps hard. "I love you." His whole body tingles because they're sitting here and they've made it somehow.
"I love you too." Aaron mumbles, eyes glistening and Robert can already tell that taking Seb to see Aaron's beach is going to make Aaron even more of his daddy.
The daddy with the fluffy hair.
Robert smiles, leans in and kisses Aaron again before Seb sighs and says -
"I want to see the fossils!" In his high pitched adorable little voice and Aaron laughs against it.
"Wonder who was behind that?" Robert shakes his head as he pulls out of the drive way.
Aaron's still laughing. "Uh Will maybe?" He's saying before waving at Chas from the pub.
"Beep beep it daddy!" Seb's saying and Robert rolls his eyes before beeping at Chas and watching her smile at them, wave back and God she loves them all so much now.
Aaron leans forward and puts on Seb's Disney playlist, pulls a hand on Robert's thigh and looks so in love suddenly.
Robert doesn't see it. He's too busy driving.
And he doesn't know it yet.
But Aaron's going to ask if he wants another baby.
Because he wants all of this forever and ever.
(He doesn't know that Robert's going to agree to it all by pouncing on Aaron and kissing the life out of him because yeah -
He's finally worthy of this life of his.)