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Aaron’s childhood is overshadowed by memories he’d rather forget.

His eighth year of existence brought the worst memory possible, his own Father doing the most unspeakable offences for the first time. He recognises his eighth year as a time of pain and suffering and no, please stop!

Except it doesn’t stop at his eighth year, nor his ninth, tenth or eleventh.

He’s eighteen and it’s been ten years of misery.

When his sister is born he wonders if the pain will stop but it doesn’t, his Dad just gets cleverer and more creative and by the time Sandra, his Step-Mum finds out it’s too late to do any damage control.

Sandra’s not a monster, he is.

But Sandra’s the Maternal figure who turned a blind eye to horrific abuse in hopes that it’d spare her daughter.

Aaron can’t blame her, he’d take it to save his sister.

But who’s there to save him?

--

He’s eighteen when it all comes to a head.

He’s threatening to spill the beans, let the cat out the bag and find someone, anyone who’ll believe such a story.

Only Sandra’s begging him not to and he’s looking down at his innocent and pure little sister and he’s agreeing.

They’re arguing in the bathroom later that night, his Dad and he.

He’s pushing and shoving and screaming and Aaron can’t let it happen, no, please not again.

And before he knows it he’s running and he’s going to the only place he knows at a quarter past midnight. The garage where he works is empty apart from a silver Volvo that’s in for brake-pads and an MOT, he’s sitting in it just to get a bit of warmth and he’s curious and he’s got nothing to lose and no reason to stay and before he knows it he’s turning on the ignition and watching the smoke engulf the entire garage.

It’s scary and thrilling and peaceful all at the same time.

There’s a burning in his lungs that’s getting tighter and crushing his chest even more until suddenly it doesn’t. Nothing hurts and he’s boneless and delirious and free.

Until he’s not.

He wakes up in Hotten General three days later, his throat red raw from the corrugated tube fed down his neck. He’s alive and well and all the nurses are pleased with his progress and he’s thinking and saying that he’d much rather die, he’d rather be dead than here with Sandra hovering in the waiting room and signing his papers because he needs help.

They’ve decided that sectioning him is the best option in his mental state.

Sandra’s fed everyone this cock-and-bull story of how Aaron is that head-fucked he’d say anything to anyone who’d listen and suddenly she’s got him a bed at a mental institute out in the sticks and she’s telling everyone that he’s going because he’s suicidal but really he’s going because his Step-Mum is afraid he won’t keep his mouth shut about what his Dad does to him in the quiet of the night.

-

Home Farm is an institute spanning across a large portion of the Yorkshire dales, it’s practically in the middle of nowhere and Aaron’s driver is grumbling about the fog and how the hell he’s going to make it back through this. They drive through a large gate adjoined to surrounding fences with electrical barbed wire wrapped around the top, it looks more like a prison than a hospital.

Aaron wonders if he can make a run for it when they park the car.

He doesn’t.

An orderly meets him at the car door, leaving little chance for him to do anything but follow the large muscular man to the main entrance. He takes one last glance at the outside world in hopes that it won’t be too long until he’s part of it again.

Doctor Alex Mason is barely older than Aaron but his crinkled eyes tell him he has years ahead of Aaron’s boyish self. His office it tiny and dark, his various awards and accolades are positioned neatly on a shelf behind the desk. He’s talking but Aaron’s not really processing what he’s saying, more interested in the stack of patient records on the inpatients pile.

Doctor Mason asks stupid questions like why do you think you’re here Aaron? and do you accept our help, Aaron? Aaron nods along, wanting to get this over with. He figures he’ll be here a couple of weeks, a month at most and maybe, just maybe he can go live somewhere else after all this blows over. He’d see if his Mum would let him stay or maybe he’d head to Leeds and kip on his mates sofa for a bit. He’s getting ahead of himself and before he knows it, Dr Mason is thrusting a white form in his direction.

Aaron’s never been good with words but he trusts the Doctor, he’s a medical professional so why wouldn’t he? And so he signs his name in cursive at the bottom of the contract before allowing himself to be bustled from the room and down the corridor to the ward entrance.

No turning back now.

The first patient he sees is close to the image Aaron first pictured when he realised he was heading for an asylum. He’s rocking back and forth with his arms bound in a straight-jacket, he’s high off something Aaron would rather not know about and he’s screaming profanities in a broad Northern accent. It’s off-putting and nerve-wracking and makes Aaron want to be anywhere but here.

“Ignore Eli” Doctor Mason muses, marking something off on his clipboard “He’s having an episode”

Aaron nods along like it’s all the explanation he needs but he can’t resist looking back over his shoulder at the scruffy man who’s now laughing manically.

Doctor Mason shows him the day room all set up with individual high-backed chairs and a TV set on wheels, it reminds Aaron of when he broke his arm as a child and spent the week causing mayhem on the Paediatric ward of Hotten General. It’s nostalgic and terrifying all at the same time. Aaron’s room is small but at least he doesn’t have to share, the bed against the wall has clean sheets and a green cellular blanket, the Doctor points out a shelf for Aaron’s belongings but he doesn’t have many so he’s not that bothered, he’s more bothered about the brown leather-bound book Doctor Mason thrusts into his grip.

“This is your journal” The Doctor explains and Aaron screws up his face in disgust at the prospect of writing his every thought to be psychoanalysed by the on-duty shrink but he puts it to the back of his mind when he notices the bars on the window. He asks in a jokey way if it’s that bad here that they need bars to keep the patients in but Doctor Mason assures him that all of his patients are happy and want to be here, that’s why they signed the contract.

But Aaron’s changed his mind.

Aaron doesn’t trust him, not one bit.

--

The food is alright, typical of hospital type meals - nutrition-filled but rank, he’s not that bothered though, at least he won’t have his Dad breathing down his neck if he can’t stomach the entire plate.

He’s made a friend, or at least someone who’s latched onto him like the puppy he’s always wanted but now he can’t get rid of. He calls himself G-Man but the staff call him Gerry, he’s like a hyperactive five year old in an older-teens body. He’s goofy and dorky and weird but he looks harmless and Aaron thinks maybe, just maybe he’ll be okay here.

He’s lying in bed that night replaying all the painful memories in his mind.

He’s in the middle of the largest madhouse in Yorkshire yet he’s never felt safer in all his eighteen years.

Chapter Text

Gerry.

Gerry is a pathological liar, he admits it quite freely but leaves Aaron wondering if any words leaving his lips could be trusted. He’s dopey and loveable and docile. When he’s not telling crap jokes and flirting shamelessly with the staff he’s giving Aaron the low down on life inside. Aaron wonders what he’s in for but he can barely decide whether he’d believe it if he told him or not.

He tells Aaron about Connor.

Connor was the pale-skinned copper-haired lad who had the decency to top himself and free up a bed on the ward for Aaron. Gerry says he was psychotic and weird but Aaron thought it best not to judge other peoples mental state when you’ve all got reasons for being locked up in a place like this. Connor was smart and clever and a practical genius, he’d spend his days hunched over his journal writing equations and formulas and plotting world domination, or so that’s what Gerry says.

The Journal is a sore subject for Aaron. Doctor Mason had suggested, no wait, enforced the rule of each patient keeping a journal. Aaron had protested immediately “I’m not a teenage girl” but the Doctor maintained that it was a compulsory exercise and that he wouldn’t read it, it was just for Aaron’s benefit. He’d been here over twenty four hours and still hadn’t scrawled much but his name on the inside cover.

The conversation is over before it barely starts. A new patient arrives in the form of six feet of slim, toned muscle, porcelain skin and blonde hair. He saunters in like he owns the place and unbeknownst to Aaron - he does. Aaron finds out later that Robert Sugden is top dog around these parts. Widely known for absconding because he feels like it and having the entire ward wrapped around his little finger, Robert is the local celebrity in a hospital for the mentally unstable.

Gerry says he’s been in and out of institutions since he was twelve, a gifted child with wasted potential and a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. His Dad had paid through the nose to get him sent away to boarding school but when he’d snapped and wrapped his hands around his neck. They’d dragged him away kicking and screaming like some kind of criminal, he’d been here ever since. Robert was pure art, there was no denying it - he knew it and so did everyone else. If he wasn’t permanently plastered with the label of lunacy then maybe, just maybe he’d be on the cover of every sordid magazine in the country.

Aaron was aware he was staring as Robert sweet-talked his way around the day room, female orderlies swooning at his very existence and Aaron couldn’t blame them, he’d been catching flies since the moment he illuminated the room. Robert is rebellious and charismatic and manipulative but he also has those piercing blue eyes that you want to lose yourself in and Aaron can see quite clearly why no one can help but gaze at him, radiating the room like he’s got a fucking halo on his head.

He knows it

And Robert knows it

He can tell by the way he smirks when he catches him looking.

-

It’s nearing lights out when he gets to see Robert snap.

Aaron’s sat on the bed in his room with the door wide open, hand splayed across his stomach as he daydreams about life outside. There’s a commotion down the hall way and Aaron doesn’t need to get up to find a front row seat because soon enough Robert has shoved his way into Aaron’s room and is staring wildly at the man in question. He’s rambling, something about a boyfriend and how fucking could he? and it takes a few seconds until Aaron catches on. Robert and Connor were a thing and now Connor was gone and Aaron was lay in his bed. Robert had been gone that long that he hadn’t known about the suicide, not until now.

He wavers slightly, his arrogance fading and maybe his bottom lip trembles slightly but Aaron’s not sure and soon enough one of the orderlies is grasping his bicep and guiding him back to his own room. Aaron feels guilty. He feels sad and guilty and just as out of place here as he was back home except there’s no future in a place like this, no escape and no ambition. Aaron writes in his journal that evening, It’s barely more than a scrawl, a few words and scratchy pictures detailing his first experience and before he knows it he’s got Roberts name in cursive on the bottom left. He feels like a teenage girl with a crush and he contemplates scribbling it out but he can’t get the image of Robert Sugden’s playful smirk from his mind.

He shoves his hand down past his waistband in an effort to forget.

--

The shitty thing about being on suicide watch is that you’re constantly harassed by busy-body nurses who say they’re doing their job but really are counting down till the day you top yourself. Rebecca is one of those nurses, she’s petite and too smiley and definitely fits the profile of dumb blonde. She’s new here, or so Aaron has gathered by the way Gerry has latched onto her and the countless silly mistakes she makes. She’s ditzy and overly happy to the point it makes Aaron want to vomit, when on duty she bustles into Aaron’s room loudly and chirpy to mark his name on her clipboard of yes, still breathing, not lying in a puddle of his own blood.

Rebecca brings knock-out pills in a tiny paper cup with a glass of water, it’s compulsory. Aaron had argued that he didn’t need help sleeping, he wasn’t here for that but when Rebecca had mentioned the matron and her own special tranquilliser he relented. He wasn’t going to have a dart shot in in his backside like some uncooperative animal, and the more he managed to sleep the quicker his stay here could be. Rebecca is smiling sickly sweet as she marks his name off her list, he downs the pills and within minutes her little white apron is merging with the white walls of the room and he feels drunk. The last thing he remembers is Rebecca telling him not to fight it and he can sense her lowering his head to the pillow and vaguely recognises her tucking him in for the night.

He doesn’t stir again until morning.

--

Robert doesn’t speak to him at breakfast and Aaron wonders if he usually speaks to anyone at all. He’s quiet with glances and expressions that speak a thousand words, Aaron’s spent the best part of the morning analysing him. Rebecca is still on duty until hand over at 10am, this would be her first interaction with the famous Robert Sugden and she’s making it painstakingly obvious that she’s well up for it. Aaron watches her bend over as she pours tea into Roberts mug, shamelessly pushing her cleavage into view but Robert either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care, he’s more interested in the Stephen King novel in his grasp, Aaron can’t make out the title.

Rebecca gives up after a while and it’s when she leaves the room that Robert finally puts his book down and makes a start on his breakfast. He grimaces slightly as he takes a sip of the tea, most wouldn’t notice the expression but with the way Aaron’s been fixated on the mystery man it’s hard not to notice every minor detail. Aaron can empathise, the lukewarm weak tea that they provide on the ward definitely isn’t Yorkshire’s finest, he suspects it’s a cheap brand of decaf, the only option considering coffee isn’t permitted and the water doesn’t taste filtered and fresh.

Robert frowns at a man in the far corner of the room with greasy long hair and a stoned expression, he’s laughing manically at nothing in particular and the eye roll from Robert tells Aaron that this is a normal thing. He looks over at him and recognises him as Eli, Gerry hadn’t said much about him - there hadn’t been much of a story there, just that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and spent most of his time in solitary bound in a straight-jacket and doped up on too many drugs. He doesn’t look angry or confrontational, he looks lost and confused and a little bit dangerous. Aaron tears his eyes away from him to look back at Robert who by now is staring straight at him with an unreadable expression. Aaron feels childlike and exposed under his gaze, he’s well aware of the blush creeping up the back of his neck and wants nothing more than to retreat back to the safety of his room but he just can’t drag his eyes away from the man opposite and the small smile tugging the corner of Roberts lips is making Aaron curious and-…

“Can you two stop eye-fucking? I’m trying to eat my breakfast”

Ross Barton is glaring at them with disgust and by the time Aaron looks back at Robert he’s already gone, his bowl and mug left as the only inkling that he was ever here in the first place. Aaron lets out a breath he wasn’t aware he was holding, there was something interesting about Robert Sugden.

--

Aaron has a session with Doctor Mason before tea time, he’s escorted by an orderly down a winding corridor until he’s faced with the office he signed his life away in. He hadn’t taken much notice of the room before now but looking around as he sits in the chair opposite Doctor Mason he can see a chaise-longue that looks like it belongs in the 1900’s and walls lined with numerous books, most of them with medical jargon scripted on their spines.

Doctor Mason tells him to call him Alex but Aaron’s not nearly familiar enough with his shrink to want to be on a first-names basis. He asks the usual boring stuff, how he’s settling in and whether he’s coping with the change. If he’s had time to reflect and how the medication is suiting him. Aaron is mainly using single-syllable answers and his standard bored monotone that his Dad hates. The only change in response is when Doctor Mason asks if he’s made friends. He says no, and then I don’t know which prompts him to write something unreadable on Aaron’s medical record.

He tells him about Gerry, how he’s kind of taken him under his wing but he’s not sure if they’re friends as much as two people who are sharing mealtimes on the local psych ward. He tells him about Ross and how they’ve interacted but are definitely not friends because Ross is a wanker. He mentions Eli and Sam in passing, talks about Rebecca and how she’s trying too hard and he frankly finds her irritating and then the elephant in the room comes up as Doctor Mason asks his opinion on Robert.

Robert is an enigma that Aaron hasn’t deciphered yet and he tells Doctor Mason just as much.

He says something vague about how Aaron should be focussing on his own recovery and not getting dragged in by the likes of Robert Sugden and it’s supposed to be a warning but it just excites and intrigues Aaron even more. He’d never been one to follow the rules and something, someone off-limits was like putting a kid in a sweet-shop and telling them not to touch. Aaron tries to ignore the notes that Doctor Mason is writing about him, he’s curious of course but he knows there’s no way the Doctor will tell him and he’d rather avoid getting worked up and sent to solitary if he starts an argument.

The session is over before Aaron can really dwell on it, the only subject sticking in his mind is Robert and why he is so off-limits. After tea time the patients have a free session to either spend in their rooms or in the day room with the rest of them. He scans the seating area for any sign of Robert and his heart sinks a little when he realises he isn’t there, sulking off to his room with a sigh and flopping chest-down on his bed.

He’s drawing stick figures in his journal when he’s hyper-aware he’s being watched. He glances up to the open door and sees Robert himself leaning against the door frame watching him curiously. He murmurs a barely-there “Hi” before he clears his throat and sits up, shoving his journal under his pillow as he sits on his knees and stares open-mouthed at his visitor. “Writing anything interesting?” Robert asks, inviting himself into Aaron’s space and sitting on the end of his bed facing him. Aaron shrugs, not sure if Robert’s genuinely interested or if it’s just an ice-breaker until Robert tilts his head curiously “Write anything about me?”

Aaron almost blurts out an answer before he turns three shades of red and coughs awkwardly “Was there anything you wanted, Robert?” He asks calmly, avoiding his gaze shyly. “Gerry said your name is Aaron” Robert shrugs, waiting for Aaron to nod before continuing “He won’t tell me what you’re in for.” Aaron’s surprised at the thought of Robert talking to Gerry like that “You asked about me?” he lets his eyes fall on Roberts nervously.

“Don’t sound so surprised” Robert muses “You’re very interesting, Aaron”

Aaron furrows his eyebrows, he’s been called many things over the years and interesting isn’t one of them. He’s the least interesting person he knows, his life is boring and shit and he’s grumpy and angry all the time and the least bit interesting, especially to a person like Robert. “I didn’t tell Gerry why I’m in here” Aaron swallows as he lets his gaze falter, dropping to Roberts lips for a mere second before giving him eye contact, it’s quick enough to not look too obvious but Robert’s analysing his every movement and the tug at the corners of his perfect mouth tell Aaron that he caught him staring.

“Dark and Mysterious” Robert muses “I like it”

“Hardly” Aaron chuckles lightly “You’re the one with all the stories”

Robert licks his lower lip as he lets his eyes rake across Aaron’s body, he’s not shy about it and makes it perfectly obvious that he’s checking him out. Aaron feels like he’s under the microscope as he watches Robert watching him but he can’t deny he’s enjoying every second and the fire in his belly is starting to make his skin burn. “Maybe I’ll tell you some, one day” Robert smiles, pleased with his view. “You’re sticking around this time then?” Aaron dares, knowing all about Robert and his love for escapism.

“Got something to stick around for now, haven’t I?” Robert smirks, letting his gaze linger on the lip Aaron is biting absent-mindedly before making his way out of the room, stopping in the door way momentarily to glance back at his new interest.

“Sweet dreams, Aaron.”

Chapter Text

Ross.

 

He’s heard the stories about the Barton brothers from Gerry. He’d held back no amount of detail as he avidly gave Aaron the low down of the patients on the ward, the Barton’s being some of the more interesting additions to psychiatric life. They came as a pair - Peter and Ross though they couldn’t have been more different. Peter was the quiet, brooding type where Ross was the slightly psychotic, in-your-face type with enough pent up anger for the pair of them.

There were three of them at first, though no one ever got to meet Finlay - not really, yet they’d all seen his picture in the newspaper after his Mum had shot him at point blank range before chucking herself off the local viaduct. Their Dad had suffered a similar fate not twelve months before when she’d single-handedly caused a seven car pileup on the motorway after she shoved him off the overhead bridge. They said she was mentally unstable but the line didn’t stop there, her two surviving sons were deemed unfit to exist in usual society - destined for a life in a mental health unit.

Peter topped himself three weeks in and now there was just Ross, left with a lifetime of bad memories and enough hate destroy anyone in his path. He literally had nothing to lose and so apparently spent the rest of his days taunting people for pure pleasure and relishing in others’ misery. Aaron thought he looked relatively normal, maybe the permanent scowl was a dead give away but Aaron wasn’t one to judge, the last time he’d properly smiled he’d have probably been about seven so Ross Barton’s resting bitch face didn’t really bother him too much.

Ross was the third person to arrive for circle time, Gerry and Aaron before him and then Sam who pottered in after him with a dopey grin on his face. Eli was having a spell in solitary after inappropriate conduct with an orderly, Aaron wondered if he could bring himself to chat up the nearest nurse with hopes of ditching circle time. The room was silent and Aaron wondered if they would ever get this over with until the door nearly swung off it’s hinges and Robert swaggered his way into the room. He took a chair from near the wall and dragged it’s legs noisily across the linoleum, making a point of sitting directly across from Aaron and looking disinterested as he pulled a cigarette from behind his ear, wordlessly leaning towards the older orderly; Dan who struck a match and held it against the cherry of his cigarette.

Aaron tries not to think of how good the paper-white stick looks nestled between Roberts pink lips.

The group is led by a student Doctor with a university pass pinned to her lanyard. There are three orderlies supervising in case things get interesting but Aaron can’t imagine talking therapy in the music room would do much to cause a riot. She starts by having everyone introduce themselves by name and saying something that interests them outside of the unit. Sam wastes no time in telling everyone about his passion for birds and wildlife, his speech is cut short because even though we have all the time in the world some of us would like to get a word in edge-ways. Gerry tells everyone how he likes bombing down the M62 in his green Mustang but everyone mutually rolls their eyes, everyone knows Gerry lies.

Aaron is next mumbling his name before clearing his throat awkwardly as the Doctor asks him to speak up so the rest of the room can hear. He states his name coherently and tells them about his interest in cars and how he’s a mechanic on the outside, he kind of wants to carry on the conversation - cars are his passion but thinking back to how Sam had been cut off he ends his turn, nodding towards Ross who’s next. Ross glares at the Doctor, trying his best to be as intimidating as possible. Aaron knows lads like Ross on the outside, complete head-cases but soft on the inside, all that pent up anger and no one to unleash it on.

Aaron self-harms but Ross does his best to hurt anyone within a ten metre radius.

“I’m Ross Barton” He dead-pans “I like killing puppies and making girls cry”

The Doctor isn’t fazed by Ross’ poor attempt at intimidation, it makes Aaron wonder if she’d seen worse doing her rounds of the hospital. She writes a few notes in her records before turning to the last person, Robert. Aaron expects Robert to go into self-love mode, telling the group about his conquests and all the fun stuff he does on the outside when he decides to wander off on his travels.

“I’m Robert, and I don’t like anything”

His gaze doesn’t meet anyone’s though Aaron’s is burning through the hard exterior of the walls he’s put around himself.

--

Aaron learns that Robert is prone to mood changes.

Sometimes he’s forward and in-your-face and metaphorically climbing into your lap because he’s just that interested in the colour of your eyes and then other times he’s closed off and defensive and quite, but like - not just quiet and calm, like so silent it’s deafening.

Aaron’s been here over a week now and is becoming acquainted and comfortable with the sort-of family on the ward. He’s talking about cars with Gerry in the day room but really it’s just Gerry rambling on about his criminal record for grand theft auto and how many sports cars he has back at home. Aaron zoned out ages ago thinking about how Robert had been summoned to Doctor Masons office more than two hours ago and it wasn’t his day for a session, so what’s so important it couldn’t wait until tomorrow?

He gets his answer not half an hour later when an exhausted looking Robert walks back onto the ward, his usual swagger is non-existent and his shoulders and slouched, he makes no attempt to interact with anyone else as he shuffles off to his room. He slams his door loudly enough to make everyone else of the ward jump, it’s an unspoken rule that you have to keep your door wide open in the day unless you’re dressing but the nurses whispering in the corner seem to have ignored that.

When everyone else is refocussed on whatever they were doing before Aaron takes his cue to wander off down the corridor, hovering nervously outside Roberts door before tapping quietly and pushing the handle down slowly. “Piss off” Robert mumbles from his place on the bed, he’s got his forehead pressed uncomfortably against his knees with his fingers knotted messily in his hair. His fists are tense and he’s tugging, heavily breathing with his legs pulled up to his chest.

“I’m not here for your pills, if that’s what you’re worried about” Aaron speaks quietly, shutting the door behind him. Robert’s head shoots up as he becomes aware of Aaron’s presence. His eyes are red-rimmed and his bottom lip is trembling, he looks completely worn out and now he’s wiping his eyes roughly with the back of his hands, his hair askew as he tries desperately to look like he hasn’t spent the last few hours crying. “I’m not in the mood for a conversation” He mumbles, averting his gaze to the floor.

Aaron’s never seen the man look so broken.

“Good thing I’m not that good at talking then, ‘ey?” Aaron shrugs, not taking no for an answer as he shoves Roberts legs across and climbs onto the bed next to him. “Since when are you so pushy?” Robert almost laughs, letting his legs lie flat out in front of him, right thigh pressed comfortably against Aaron’s left. “Someone’s got to keep up the game” Aaron smiles, knocking his shoulder into Roberts “It’s usually you barging your way into my space.”

“You like it” Robert smiles, despite his sadness.

“You saying you don’t?”

“Could get used to it, I suppose”
They’re sat in a comfortable silence for a while, listening to the inhale and exhale of each other until Robert finally speaks. “My Dad died this morning” he whispers hoarsely, and Aaron thinks back for a moment about what he’d heard of Robert’s Dad, how he’d got him put in this place at twelve years old and hadn’t so much as paid a visit to him since. He plays it safe with “Sorry to hear that” as Robert breathes a laugh and replies bluntly “I’m not.”

“Don’t even know why I’m like this, he was a bastard” Robert shrugged sadly “Made the first years of my life hell and then got me locked up in here like some kind of animal.. he made me the way I am.. it wasn’t entirely my fault” His voice quivers at the end and Aaron can hear the gulp as he swallows back any kind of emotion. “Regardless of what he did, he was your Dad” Aaron sighs “God, I hate my Dad more than I’ve ever hated anything in the world but I’d still feel something in here if he died” he prods his index finger into his chest as he imagines the day his Father finally exits his life.

“Suppose Gerry has given you the low down, why I’m in here” Robert side-eyes him, receiving barely a shrug in response “A little” Aaron admits “But I think we both know not to take everything he says seriously” Robert nods calmly, fiddling with a tiny fibre poking from his t-shirt before speaking again. “I’ve heard the rumours, some crazy story about how I’ve been here since the dawn of time because I’m some criminal mastermind with a tendency to abscond” he breathes humourlessly. “They say you’ve been here since you were twelve” Aaron admitted “Didn’t want to go to boarding school so you throttled your Dad” Robert turns to look at him with an amused expression “Is that what you believe? That I didn’t want to go to school so I tried to kill my Dad?”

“I choose not to listen to idle gossip, was hoping you’d give me the real story when you were ready” Aaron tilted his head curiously. Robert nodded, accepting his answer before speaking quieter, as though there were people listening in on their private conversation. “I wasn’t twelve when I came here, I was fifteen. I’d been having psychotherapy as an outpatient since I was twelve, but that was because my Mum died in front of me… wasn’t really old enough to process it and they thought seeing a shrink would help” Robert averted his gaze, not wanting to see the pity in Aaron’s eyes as he opened up to him. “I grew up on a farm, it’s been in our family for over a hundred years.. Dad wanted me to become a farmer, have a wife and kids.. but that just wasn’t me. I liked books and logic and nothing hands-on, not like my brother - no, he was Golden boy. The son my Dad always wanted, he was adopted you see.. my best friend from school that came home with me one day and ruined my family.”

“Is that why you didn’t get on with your Dad? Because you felt pushed out?” Aaron asked softly. “It’s part of it, but it’s more complicated than that.” Robert sighed “He found me with a lad in my room, went absolutely mental. I thought he was going to kill me, started going on about how I’d disgraced the family and how much of a disappointment I was” Robert coughed to cover his emotion but Aaron could hear the slight change in his voice. “I just wanted him to love me, like he loved Andy..” Aaron reached out and covered his trembling hand with his own, a small comforting gesture that hand Robert suck in a breath before he let his thumb gently rub against Aaron’s fingers.

“He ignored me for weeks. I thought he would just get over it eventually and maybe, just maybe if I tried hard enough on the farm he’d look at me like he looked at Andy” Robert said hoarsely “He dropped a leaflet on the table at breakfast one morning, said I was changing schools. Oakwood, apparently one of the finest schools in Yorkshire, it was a boarding school of course so he would only have to see me probably three times a year. He told everyone it was because I was a high achiever, he was pushing my ambition but I knew what it was for”

He was silent for a while and Aaron processed everything, wondering if he’d ever speak again or if that was as good an explanation as he was ever going to get. “I agreed to go, didn’t have much choice really and by the start of September I was packing my suitcase. He came into my room that night and I thought that maybe he was going to apologise, tell me he loves me, I don’t know.. anything but what he was really thinking” Robert swallowed, approaching the difficult part and wondering how to voice it without sounding so wrecked “He said that there was a private teacher who worked there, and I thought maybe he wanted me to have extra lessons or something but, he didn’t… not exactly”
“What did he teach, Robert?” Aaron pushed, turning to meet the gaze of Robert who looked almost nervous to admit it. “Gay Aversion therapy” Robert spoke hoarsely “He wanted to cure me.” Aaron’s face was a picture of expressions as he played over and over in his head what he’d heard. “I didn’t think that was legal” He swallowed thickly, thinking back to how many times his Dad had tried to beat it out of him. “It’s frowned upon, sure. But no one cares.. not really” Robert mumbled “That’s why I lost it.. said I wasn’t ever going there and he couldn’t make me and I just.. I lost it.. I put my hands around his throat and everything went black.. turns out my brother had hit me over the head with something and knocked me out, I woke up here and I haven’t seen him since.. only had a letter telling me that I was staying here indefinitely. I’m not safe around civilised society.”

Roberts face was haunted, tired and exhausted and haunted.

Aaron didn’t speak, couldn’t verbalise all the internal hatred and disgust he harboured for a man he’d never met. It was almost equal to the emotion he felt for his own Dad, Robert wasn’t crazy - sure he had issues like the rest of them but he wasn’t crazy, they’d made him like that. He removed his hand from Roberts and for a moment Robert thought he was going to leave but instead he wrapped his arm around his shoulder and pulled him in for a hug, Roberts head nestled perfectly in the space between Aaron’s neck and shoulder.

They stayed like that for a while, Roberts warm breath ghosting the skin of Aaron’s throat while Aaron rested his cheek against the mess of blonde hair. Aaron’s hand was resting loosely in his lap and he watched from the corner of his eye as Robert tentatively reached out to lace his fingers with his own, he let him and took pleasure in how perfectly his stubby hand fit against Roberts large one. “You ever going to tell me your story, Aaron?” he asked quietly, knowing he’d just bared his soul to an almost stranger. “One day” Aaron sighed “But not today, you need to get through this first.”

“I’ve never told anyone, you know?” Robert admitted “Not even Doctor Mason”

“Well, maybe you should?” Aaron pursed his lips “Might help”

“No, it won’t” Robert sighed “You’ve helped though”

Aaron didn’t respond verbally, instead he tightened his hold on Robert and pressed a soft, barely-there kiss to Roberts crown. He likes to think that Robert relaxed a bit more after that, and he’d be right - Robert had never felt more at home.

Chapter Text

Sam.

 

Sam likes to watch the pigeons through the window bars in the day room. Sometimes he sits there for hours on end in his own little world observing the nature and sometimes he make a scene, showing off his knack for bird-calls and telling anyone who’ll listen about his life back home in the countryside, on his family’s pig farm surrounded by rolling hills and woodland, how his Dad taught him everything he knows and how he’s coming back soon to collect him.

Except everyone knows everyone’s story in a place like this and Sam’s isn’t entirely true.

Sam’s family have been dead for over a decade and the family farm he dreams so vividly is a pile of rubble in the almost vacant village where he was born. Sam doesn’t remember starting the fire that his entire family perished in, some say it’s because he’s a bit too backward and definitely not the brightest spark but the Doctor talks of blackouts and his mind somehow protecting him from the horrors he witnessed at a time he wasn’t really himself.

It had been an accident, of course and definitely not intentional but the verdict had been arson and though his mental state played a huge factor in the story he was still the man who struck a match in a barn full of hay. His little sister Belle escapes with horrific burns bubbling every inch of her beautiful pale skin but she never regains consciousness and is soon buried in the village graveyard with both her parents. Sam’s only recollection is the scars on his hands from trying to save them all but the security blanket in his head tells him he was born like it and he’s here to be looked after until it’s time to go home.

He’s nice, at least Aaron thinks so. He’s unusual and strange but everybody on the ward has their own quirks and peculiarities, everyone else seems to have a hidden anger or underlying venom but Sam is genuine and painfully innocent and childlike. Aaron likes Sam, from a distance anyway. Sam’s got a nasally voice that if it wasn’t so avidly trying to make friends Aaron would find irritating at best, but Ross Barton isn’t interested in friends, or politeness or even general kindness so of course Ross is irritated at the mere existence of Simple Sam.

“Get your mug out the window, you’re scaring the birds off” Ross groans, flicking his eyes from his journal to Sam who’s quietly perched with his face pressed against the bars. “Leave him alone Barton, not like you’ve ever had luck with birds anyway is it?” Robert mumbles, loud enough for Ross to hear but quiet enough to feign disinterest. Robert has his head in a book, he usually does at this time of day - it’s another Stephen King novel and Aaron can just make out the title of ‘Cujo’ on the cover, he can vaguely remember watching the film one night after hours and being scared half-to-death while he crept to bed in the darkness. He never did like horrors.

Ross would normally listen to Roberts vague warning but it’s a Tuesday afternoon and he’s bored and he feels like pushing his limits as far as possible, Sam is the perfect target. “So is your Mum coming with your Dad to pick you up Sammy boy?” Ross smirks, ignoring the fact that Robert has now closed his book and is shooting daggers across the room. “My Step-Mum, our Lisa” Sam grins, oblivious to the snide undertones and just happy that he’s got a new friend to talk to.

“Is she fit?” Ross says blankly, tilting his head as Sam squirms under his gaze. “No!” Sam laughs uncomfortably in a childlike manner. “Does she take care of you?” Ross continues, cruelly working up to his punchline. “She makes us the best stew” Sam smiles, panting a little as he gets excitable “And she lets me feed the pigs.” Ross beams as he leans forward on the palm of his hand, encouraging Sam who’s now moved to sit near him to continue with his stories of home.

Roberts jaw is tense and Aaron can’t help but glance between him and the scene, wondering if he’s going to snap and throw the book at the mouthy Barton boy or just corner him later when the orderlies aren’t looking. His fist is opening and closing in his lap as he watches the scene unfold, Sam happily rabbiting on about his family and life on the farm until Ross’ face twists into an evil smirk. “Shame you had to murder them all isn’t it Sammy? Wonder if your precious Lisa was thinking about you and your fucking birds when you set her daughter alight”

The reaction is like a firecracker, a slurry of no, no, no and you’re lying! as Sam rocks with his hands on his head. Ross is hovering over him now, crouched next to his ear taunting him and Robert lunges from his seat intent on smashing Ross into the middle of next week but he stops and stutters with Aaron’s hand on his chest, holding him back as the orderlies come running through to see the commotion, saving him from getting in trouble for fighting. He steps backwards, falling into line with Aaron who somehow still has his palm pressed firmly against his middle while they watch, ready for Ross to get his comeuppance.

He gets it, but not in the controlled way of the orderlies breaking up the duo and sending them to solitary, instead he gets a sucker punch to the centre of his face and in the otherwise silent room you can hear the crunch as his nose breaks. Sam is like a wild animal, game caught in the cross hair of a shotgun as his wild eyes frantically search the room and he’s calling for his Dad and Lisa and Belle and soon he swings his arms, flailing about in a panic until he clocks the new girl, Rebecca right in the centre of her pretty face.

He’s drugged and carried away to a solitary room where he remains for the rest of the day, by tea time he’s back to normal, quieter maybe and more contemplative but showing no signs of aggression and with Ross being kept out of his way Aaron thinks that maybe that’s the end of it now but he couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

They come for Sam at breakfast.

 

Aaron’s always thought men in white jackets was something you see in an over-exaggerated film like the ones he and Adam used to watch, that it wouldn’t really happen in real life but now he’s witnessing two bouncer-looking heavies in white button-downs drag Simple Sam away kicking and screaming with all his might, if it wasn’t for the metal cuffs digging into his wrists he might have stood a chance with the way he was flailing about but it takes less than a few minutes for the noise to die down as they wrench him across the linoleum and out of the double doors.

“Where are they taking him?” Aaron asks dumbly, turning to face the rest of the patients who are silent after watching the show. Gerry has a spoon of cornflakes hovering between his open mouth and the bowl where his milk is dripping clumsily, he hasn’t managed to drag his curious eyes away from the double doors yet. Robert is also strangely quiet, until he’s turning to Aaron with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders and speaking calm as ever “Lobotomy.”

“Wait, that’s actually a thing?” Aaron almost laughs, searching for the punchline in Roberts blank stare, his expression is unreadable until he rolls his eyes patronisingly “Yes, Aaron. Welcome to the Madhouse.” His train of thought is broken by Gerry noisily slurping at his cereal like he didn’t just watch a man be manhandled down the corridor, well on his way to having an ice-pick hammered into his brain. Ross has the decency to look almost guilty and ashamed until his heartless side kicks in and he mutters “It’s not like anyone’s going to miss his sparkling personality anyway.” The lukewarm tea is swirling and churning obscenely in Aaron’s stomach and he fights the urge to bolt to the bathroom and throw up.

Sam wasn’t really Sam by the time they wheeled him back to the ward.

--

It had become a normal thing now for Aaron to find his way to Roberts room, they’d talk sometimes for hours on end about everything and nothing all at once. It had been a week since Roberts Dad had died and he had no intention of going to the funeral, he’d made that quite clear on plenty occasions and by now the staff had gotten sick of trying to change his mind. They were talking, sat cross-legged and facing each other on Roberts bed, he’d been moaning about how Doctor Mason had tried to push him into attending the funeral, said it was vital for him to process but Robert thought Doctor Mason was a prick and told him so himself.

“It might be good though, to get closure” Aaron offered “You won’t get this chance again”

“Would you go, if it were your Dad?” Robert asked curiously, they’d danced around the subject of Aaron’s Dad for quite some time now and the more Aaron got comfortable with Roberts presence the more he wanted to tell him everything.

“I’d go just to make sure he was actually gone” Aaron laughed weakly

“Why are you here Aaron?” Robert tilting his head, and meeting Aaron’s nervous gaze

“I’m sad” Aaron shrugged, drawing a laugh from the older man

“We’re all sad here” Robert smiled sadly “Is it to do with your scars?”

The compulsory dress code of short-sleeves and jogging bottoms had made it difficult for Aaron to hide evidence of his self-harm, the silvery lines criss-crossed across his torso and upper thighs were well hidden but the deep scarring across his forearms and wrists were impossible to disguise, especially a particular gash that had gone septic a year before and nearly killed him.

“They were never meant to kill me” Aaron traced his finger over the most prominent one “They just helped.. you know?” Robert nodded, listening intently and hanging off every word as Aaron, normally moody and quiet spoke clearly for the first time. “I locked myself in the garage where I work, tried to gas myself but they found me in time” He admitted “Sectioned me straight away, said I was unstable and I guess they were right”

“But why did you do it?” Robert pressed, frowning when he received a shrug in response “You don’t try and commit suicide unless you feel like your life isn’t worth living.. so what was so bad about it Aaron?” Their eyes locked briefly and Robert could see the pain behind his irises as he tried so desperately to choke down his words. “My Dad.. he.. er.. he abused me..” Aaron spoke quietly, a strange feeling washing over him as he admitted it out in the open for the first time. “What? He beat you?” Robert asked carefully, knowing deep down that you don’t just kill yourself because your Dad is kicking your head in. Aaron shook his head weakly, avoiding Roberts gaze as his now small voice choked out “My Dad raped me.”

Robert was silent for a moment before reaching out and grasping Aaron’s hand the same way he had done on the day his father died. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” Robert asked softly, a change in expression that Aaron had never experienced before, caring, kind and supportive. “I wanted to.. but my Step-Mum, Sandra. She said If I said anything that no one would believe me and I’d just be sent to live with my Mum and then he might hurt my Sister Liv.. I couldn’t do that to her..” he whispered, tears now falling silently from his eyes. Robert reached out and caught some of them with the pad of his thumb, wiping away the salty tears and caressing the side of Aaron’s cheek comfortingly.

“I couldn’t take it any more.. he’d done it since I was 8 and then that night, when I’d tried to leave and Sandra had stopped me, he tried to do it again and I lost it.. I said you can’t do that to me any more and I’d ran for it” Aaron sniffed “Didn’t have anywhere else to go but I had the keys to the garage, I was just going to stay there for the night but I couldn’t imagine going back, knew what would happen if I did.. so I just switched the ignition on and waited.”

Robert wordlessly pulled Aaron against him, wrapping his long arms protectively around him as he wept into his t-shirt. “He’s never going to hurt you again, I promise” Robert soothed, tracing circles against Aaron’s back as his body quivered, racked with sobs. It took a while for him to calm down and he was thankful that none of the nurses had been in and seen him in such a state. “Guess we both know something about the other that no one else does” Aaron half-smiled shyly. “I can’t believe we’re both stuck here for something that our Dad’s did” Robert said bluntly, his expression unreadable but Aaron could see the cogs turning in his mind. “It won’t be forever” Aaron reasoned “They said I could be out of here in a few months, if I stick to the treatments. You could too.”

Robert shook his head sadly, reaching out to trace his fingers lightly down Aaron’s face in such a manner that was so endearing Aaron nearly sighed aloud. “That’s what they tell you Aaron.. but look around you.. no one gets out of here unless they’re in a body-bag.. you signed your life away when you signed that contract.” He explained, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth as he paused “But we’re going to get out of here someday, you and me.. I promise.”

“Yeah?” Aaron asked, wide-eyed and childlike.

“Would you run away with me, if I asked you to?” Robert whispered softly.

“Any time you want” Aaron answered immediately, leaning into Roberts gentle touch.

… and if you stay, I would even wait all night …
… or until my heart explodes, how long? …
… until we find our way in the dark and out of harm …
… you can runaway with me, any time you want …

Chapter Text

Aaron is awoken by the rush of feet up and down the corridor, he can hear hushed tones and suddenly Rebecca is hurrying past his room with half of her mascara staining her cheeks. He slides from the bed quietly and pads over to the doorway, sticking his head out to look down the hall where they’re all crowded around the solitary cell. The other patients are beginning to rouse now and soon Robert is leaning out of his door and sharing a puzzled look with Aaron. Ross is next to wake, more boisterous and forward than the other two as he saunters out of his room moaning about the commotion and how he was trying to get his beauty sleep.

The small crowd of orderlies and other medical staff disperses, guiding each patient back to their room and locking the doors behind them. Aaron hasn’t experienced this kind of treatment before but knows vaguely that something must be wrong, he’s startled a few minutes later by the Matron walking up to each door and taping a piece of paper across the window in a vague attempt to stop the patients from seeing whatever was happening. It’s ten minutes later when Aaron hears the unmistakeable squeak of a gurney being wheeled across the linoleum.

At breakfast there is talk of suicide and Robert is unusually quiet as he sits next to Aaron without his usual book. Ross is talking to anyone who’ll listen about when his brother died, how they’d done the exact same thing with the paper but by the time they’d wheeled the body out Ross already knew. Aaron feels sick and lethargic and suddenly wants to sleep for the rest of the year safe in the knowledge that if he wasn’t awake and victim to his terrible thoughts, he could never get so desperate that he would try and top himself again.

It’s Eli.

Rebecca had understandably taken the rest of the day off, she’d been the poor cow who’d found him in a puddle of his own vomit, amongst other bodily fluids. “Perks of the job” Ross had voiced cruelly, seemingly past the thought of his dead brother by now. The other patients had been offered grief counselling but most of them hadn’t really known Eli all too well and the ones that did weren’t excited at the prospect of extra therapy. Gerry had lightened the eerie shadow cast over the ward with his god-awful jokes and juvenile humour, even Robert had cracked a smile at his attempt at cheering up the place.

In Roberts room that afternoon the air is tense, Aaron can clearly tell that Robert has been pondering something for the best part of the day. His attention has been limited and Aaron had caught him spaced out on more than one occasion. “Are you going to tell me what you’re plotting?” Aaron jokes “Is it world domination or are you hoping to get more TV time?” Robert ignores his humour, instead blurting out “Did you mean it, the other day.. when you said you’d run away with me?”

“I.. Of course.. but.. you mean now?” Aaron furrowed his brow, turning his full attention to Robert who looked calm but serious. “Soon” Robert nodded “When I’ve worked out the details, would you come with me?” Aaron was quiet for a moment as he assessed the situation, he had nothing to lose.. not really but there was still that queasy sensation in the pit of his stomach telling him it was a bad idea. “And what, we come back in a few weeks when you’re bored so we can do this all over again?” He blurts. Robert is known for absconding but he’s also known for his dramatic returns and Aaron isn’t sure he’d have the strength to come back here, sign that contract all over again and put his life in someone else’s hands.

“Not this time” Robert leans forward, fitting his hand around Aaron’s wrist and softly caressing the skin “Just you and me, a new life, a new start.”

“Together?” Aaron voices quietly, glancing down at Roberts hand holding onto him

“Together” Robert confirms “I’ve got a contact who could get us settled anywhere, cash in hand work, a decent place to stay”

“Well if you’ve got all of that, why did you ever bother coming back?”

“I..” Robert sighed, defeated “I didn’t want to be alone.. this place.. it’s the only home I’ve known in so long.. but now.. now I have you and I want this.. I want you..”

“You want me?” Aaron repeated, taken slightly aback

Robert stilled for a moment, loosening his grip on his wrist and averting his gaze to the bedsheets “Have I read this all wrong?” He whispers “Don’t you feel it too?” he looks up, searching Aaron’s eyes for something, anything.

Aaron glances towards the empty doorway, making sure no one is passing before turning back to Robert and brushing his lips against his gently “I feel it.. I want it.. I want you..” He whispers against his lips before reluctantly pulling away, the last thing they need is to get caught.

“So you’ll do it?” Robert’s eyes light up “You’ll run away with me?”

“Yes, Robert” Aaron breathes, hardly able to believe he’s saying the words himself “Let’s runaway.”

--

Aaron leaves the planning to Robert, he trusts him - knows he’s got out of here before, multiple times and that he’s the only person he’d truly rely on to get them through this. It’s a few days before they bring up their arrangement again and Aaron thinks maybe that it had been a pipe-dream until Robert sits next to him one day at tea time and leans over to whisper in his ear “Don’t take your pills tonight.” Aaron looks over at him incredulously “Yeah right, like I’m going to be able to wing that!”

“Do you want to end up like Eli?” Robert raises his eyebrow, moving away to sit across the room from Aaron and not draw attention to them both. It’s an hour later when Rebecca comes around with the trolley, dispersing medication to each patient and checking that they’ve swallowed it before moving onto the next. Aaron watches as Robert takes his medication, swallows audibly and sticks his tongue out before turning his attention back to his book. Rebecca has moved onto Gerry when Robert looks back up at Aaron opening his mouth to reveal the little pink and white pill balancing on his tongue.

Aaron isn’t experienced like Robert. He isn’t going to magically regurgitate the half-dissolved tablet without coughing, spluttering and giving up the game so instead he plays it as safe as possible, pushing it between his gum and lip before sticking his tongue out, lifting it upwards and smiling as Rebecca moves on satisfied. Robert is watching the exchange anxiously and he thinks for a moment that Aaron has chickened out and let himself be drugged, that is until he spits the capsule discreetly into his hand and smiles, proud-as-punch at Robert who winks in recognition.

They’re sat in Aaron’s room that evening, a change of scenery and Robert’s made himself quite comfortable sprawled across the bed as Aaron sit on the floor to write in his journal. He’s quite taken by how therapeutic it is to leave his thoughts on paper and have no one ever read them. He’s open and uncensored in his journalling, even revealing his deepest thoughts on Robert and mentioning other people he’s become acquainted with. He’s careful though, he knows not to even hint at their escape, or a possible future outside of these walls. He’s not stupid.

Robert is another one who’s taken to journalling. There is a shelf in his room lined with completed books from years gone by, he’s been here for a lot longer than the others and so his each and every thought must be plastered into each page. Aaron likes to think he’s in there somewhere, in the deepest caverns of Roberts wonderful mind. He thinks back to the first page of his journal, where he’d neatly written Roberts name and wonders at what point in their time together had Robert noticed the pull between them?

“So why aren’t we medicating?” Aaron asks quietly, not looking up from his journal where he’s sketching Robert, sprawled out lazily on his bed.

“Practise” Robert answers, leaning up on his forearms and prying over at Aaron’s journal.
He pulls it away shyly “Oi nosy” he murmurs affectionately “Practise for what?”

“Well as much as I’ve grown fond of you Aaron, I’m not going to carry you bridal style out of here because you’ve taken your meds and fallen asleep” Robert laughs, it’s light and airy and carefree and Aaron wishes he could hear Robert sound like that always.

“I thought Prince Charming was supposed to wake up Sleeping Beauty with a kiss?” Aaron smiles shyly, shading in part of his drawing

“You are not a damsel in distress Aaron, as much as you like to bleat on like a little girl” Robert grins playfully, reaching down to knock his thigh with the back of his hand “But you know?”

“I know” Aaron replies, biting his lip as a smile tugs at the corners of his mouth.

It’s their way, and secret gesture that’s not quite I love you but a lot more than I like you. It’s endearing and affectionate and totally them, without the added complication of anyone else knowing. There’s a call for lights out over the tannoy and Aaron sighs exasperatedly because it means Robert has to go now. Robert shares his sadness, pulling his hand to his mouth and brushing his lips against his skin softly “Not long now” he whispers and it lightens the pressure on Aaron’s chest.

Rebecca’s round with the trolley ten minutes later and Aaron makes sure to fake drowsiness as he allows himself to be tucked in for the night, disposing of the capsule as soon as he hears his door shut to. He drifts off to sleep naturally after a while, dreaming of a future with Robert.

Chapter Text

Skipping medication became like an art form for Aaron, he’d gotten quite the knack for it over a few days and was starting to feel more himself now that the drugs were out of his system. Doctor Mason had commented on his more positive attitude but Aaron had played it off, said it was down to journalling and talking therapy, what a load of bull.

He’d noticed a change in Robert, he was more open and carefree especially around Aaron. He still had his quieter moments where Aaron would worry about him but the longing glances they shared across the room made up for the darker times. One thing Aaron didn’t appreciate was Roberts sudden interest in Rebecca, she’d of course pandered over him as she normally did, the obscene thoughts in her head apparent in the hungry look on her face.

Aaron hated every second of it.

He hated Roberts indulgence more.

Robert had gone from ignoring her very existence to starting up polite conversation, slowly moving to shamelessly flirting as Aaron’s jealous eyes bore into the slender manicured fingers she was trailing up and down his bicep. Aaron willed himself to look away and if he hadn’t he might have seen the curious look in Roberts eyes as he watched him slam his journal shut and retreat to the safe haven of his room. Aaron wasn’t like this, he didn’t let people treat him like this but then again, was Robert really treating him like anything? Sure they’d shared a few private moments, and sure as hell Aaron was falling for him but they weren’t exclusive, and Robert hadn’t openly said Aaron was more than a companion to him. Aaron swallowed the bitterness, resting his forehead against the cold wall and tried to push all the undesirable thoughts to the back of his head.

He wasn’t safe, not like this, not when he felt like he was nothing.

All his usual forms of release were impossible, locked on the ward without a sharp object or punch-bag or alcohol to drown his sorrows in, but he lost it anyway - sweeping his hands across the shelf angrily and smashing his minimal possessions to the ground with a growl. He backed against the wall and let himself slide to the ground, bringing his knees to his chest as his breathing calmed down. After a while he leaned forward, kneeling on the ground as he gathered up his things.

The last thing he needed was an orderly coming in and seeing exactly what his temper could do.

The second to last thing was Robert, but he got him anyway.

“Accident” Aaron muttered in explanation when Robert failed to speak.

“You’re angry with me” Robert said blankly, Aaron frowned up at the man and his inability to read a situation. “I’m fine” He mumbled, resting back on his heels. “Jealous then?” Robert guessed, watching Aaron’s shoulders tense at the mention of her name “Of Rebecca” He confirmed, running his hands through his hair as he knelt down to help tidy up. “I don’t care” Aaron muttered “About her or.. or any of it” Robert leaned forward to pick up Aaron’s open journal that had crashed to the floor with everything else, it was open and dog-eared on the page of his drawing, Robert laying sleepily on his bed. “Yes you do” Robert sighed, flattening the page with his fingers before Aaron snatched the book from his grasp “That’s private” he blushed furiously, shoving it back onto the shelf with everything else.

Robert sighed, getting to his feet and tilting his head to the side as he watched Aaron fold his arms and lean back against the wall. “You know, I don’t like you for your intelligence but I thought you’d be smarter than this” Robert mused, moving closer to Aaron who was still frowning “What?” he mumbled, feigning disinterest as he looked to his feet. “I don’t fancy Rebecca” Robert laughed lightly “She’s pretty, I give her that but-…” he was interrupted by Aaron huffing out his pent up frustration “I don’t really care to be honest Robert, fancy who you want, makes no difference to me” he lied.

“She’s not you” Robert said easily.
“Do you want a medal?” Aaron shrugged “I could have told you that one”

“No, I mean she’s not you” Robert repeated “I don’t fancy her because she’s not you”

Aaron falters for a moment, flickering his gaze up to Robert before dragging it away, the distrust evident in his eyes. “I’m supposed to believe that am I? because ten minutes ago you were practically eye-fucking her in the middle of the day room”

“She’s working the late shift on Saturday” Robert says, like it means something to Aaron.

“And that’s important, why?”

“Because Saturday is the day” Robert states obviously “I need to keep her distracted”

“You mean..?”

“I mean Aaron, I’m trying to seduce the dumbest girl on the ward because she’s our ticket out of here” Robert shakes his head like Aaron’s the stupidest man he’s ever laid eyes on.

Aaron realises his mistake and swallows nervously, a blush covering his cheeks as the reality sinks in.

“Well you’re a fucking good actor” he bites back a smile “I can’t believe you did that”

“Look at me” Robert says seriously, cupping Aaron’s jaw and forcing him to make eye contact. “I’m getting out of here with you, we’re going to have a future together, me and you.. I don’t want anyone else and everything I do over the next few days is for you, for us.”

Aaron nods, breathlessly as he bites his lip between his teeth.

“I need you to trust me” Roberts eyes search his “Do you trust me Aaron?”

“I trust you” Aaron sighs, tentatively reaching out his hands to steady themselves on Roberts waist, it grounds him and suddenly he feels like he’s holding onto his entire world and If he lets go he’ll die.

Robert lets his hand slide to his neck, tangling his fingers in the dark curls at the back of his collar as he leans in and nudges his nose against Aaron’s before pressing their lips together, daringly sucking Aaron’s bottom lip into his mouth before he pulls away breathlessly.

“Soon” Robert breathes “I promise.”

 

--

 

Gerry’s rambling over tea about Saturday night, it’s hard to lose track of time when you’re on the ward but Gerry’s got everyone covered as he gushes about it being a bank holiday weekend and perfect time to cause some havoc while only the skeleton staff are on. Robert is quick to shoot down his idea, telling him to behave himself because this one time, on a skeleton shift my friend ran down the hall doing his best rendition of Kylie Minogue and on Tuesday morning when the matron came back he was lobotomised.

Gerry shuts up soon after that.

Aaron can see why Saturday is the perfect night for their escape, with only two - three staff members at most it’s the perfect opportunity to find a way out, he only wishes he knew what Robert was planning but Robert isn’t one to burden him with the details and he agrees to an extent that it’s easier this way. He trusts Robert, he really does.

As he begins to sober up and self-wean from the mind-numbing medication he starts noticing the corruption inside the ward. Half of the patients here are so doped-up on drugs that they can barely string a sentence together, poor Sam in his wheelchair - the poster boy for dodgy lobotomies and mental abuse and Ross, even Ross who under the influence of drugs looked so sure of himself, this cocky, arrogant man who through clear-eyes looked broken and defeated and dead.

The orderlies don’t look so fierce any more, their edge of importance is fading with every pill that Aaron spits into his hand, they’re normal men and women with fancy badges and the permission to kick any man who so much as looks like they’re not cooperating. The nurses are no better, gossiping freely with their lipstick-stained teeth as they fawn over personal records and slander the residents who don’t have the mental capacity or motivation to stand up for themselves.

It’s all corrupt, and Aaron can’t wait to be rid of the place.

He wants to watch it burn, but just seeing the back of it would be enough.

Suddenly Aaron feels a bit more Robert-like.

Chapter Text

Aaron doesn’t get much information from Robert, he says it’s too risky if Aaron’s hyper-aware of every aspect and he knows deep down that Robert just loves the element of surprise, that’s why he goes along with his crazy ideas over the next few days. He’s already stopped all of his medication, played extra nice with the on-duty orderly for Saturday night who they affectionately call Dopey Dan, Rebecca also receives special treatment, Aaron smiling sadistically at her now he knows that she’s nothing more than a plot device in Roberts latest scheme.

That’s why he’s hovering in the day room on Saturday morning, Robert has pulled Dan aside and is asking his opinion on something completely irrelevant to their normal conversation. He waits for his cue, when Robert asks Dan for a light for his cigarette and then Aaron springs into action, skidding his way across the room to barge into Dan and knock them both to the floor, the box of matches in Dan’s hand scattering across the linoleum as he apologises profusely for being so clumsy. Dan doesn’t see Robert pocket one of the stray matches as he tries his best to put them back in the box with Aaron’s help.

They’re sniggering in Aaron’s room later on at just how easy it had been to send Dan flying across the floor and pocket the fire-lighter. “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this” Aaron voices, now it’s all becoming real. “Any regrets?” Robert asks, sliding the match into his sock ready for it’s use later on. “No regrets” Aaron confirms “Only that I never got sectioned years ago” They share a laugh before heading out for their last meal before the great escape.

Robert talks about the music room while he’s sat on Aaron’s bed.

“It’s the perfect place to exit from” Robert confirms, puffing out a cloud of smoke as he hands the cigarette to Aaron.

“But it’s the furthest away from the main entrance?” Aaron furrows his brow, taking a drag and passing it back

“Exactly” Robert grins, like the cat that got the cream “When the fire exits all open the remaining staff will be manning the main exits, no one will even think to check the pipe-works”

“What’s the pipe-works?”

“It’s a long corridor that runs under the whole joint, the heating pipes, and water pipes run through it and there’s a vent in the music room that leads to it”

“Isn’t that really dangerous?”

“Live a little Aaron” Robert muses “It’ll all be worth it in the end”

“So how do we get out from there?”

“There’s a fire exit at the end, we’ll be at the back of the car park by then and literally, we just run for it”

“What about the fences though?” Aaron had seen the electric wired fences on the way in.

“There aren’t any” Robert grins “The exit leads to the staff car park at the back, the door’s been boarded up for years, no one really knows it exists”

“What, and you do?”

“I’m a man of many talents, dear” Robert wiggles his eyebrows “That, and I stole the plans for this place a few years back. The tunnel hasn’t been accessed since the twenties”

--
It’s coming up to lights out when they strike.

Aaron’s playing lookout, he’s been sat in the day room with one of Roberts Stephen King novels for the last half an hour. Most of the residents are having chill out time in their room as the days activities die down, he listens intently to the conversation between Dan and Rebecca, they’re the only ones on duty for this ward. Dan’s moaning about really wanting a smoke and luckily for them, Rebecca reassures him she’ll be fine to man the fort for a while. Aaron watches him punch in the code for the exit before leaving her to her paperwork.

It’s time.

Aaron makes his way to the solitary cell at the end of the corridor unseen, the room’s been left unlocked since Eli’s tragic exit and Robert’s been hiding out in their for the best part of an hour. He nods to Robert who springs into action as Aaron conceals himself behind a curtain, waiting for his moment. He listens nervously as Robert stands in the doorway, calling over to Rebecca like a puppy waiting for attention - she comes over instantly, of course she fucking does.

“Thought I’d never get you alone” Robert groans, his voice like velvet as Rebecca lets out a shrill sound.

“Robert.. we can’t!” She giggles, letting him take her by the hand and guide her over to the gurney.

“Sshh.. Tell me you haven’t dreamed of this” Robert moans, tugging her against him

He cuts off whatever response she had with a kiss but Aaron’s learnt not to let that bother him now, not when this is their big moment, this is their endgame. He listens to the fake sounds of enjoyment from Robert and the girly squeals of Rebecca as he guides her onto the gurney, climbing over her smirking.

“We have to be quick” Rebecca relents, leaning up to kiss him desperately

“Shhh.. close your eyes” Robert grins, and this is Aaron’s cue.

He creeps out from behind the curtain, unnoticed by Rebecca as she shuts her eyes and lets Robert pin her arms above her head, awaiting her fate. It’s all too easy as Aaron locks the wrist restraints into place, Robert moving quickly to restrain her ankles in the same fashion. Her eyes widen in horror as she watches Robert and Aaron above her, she screams blue murder but a gag is enough to stop the attention from being drawn to the quiet room at the end of the corridor.

“Bye Rebecca, was nice meeting you” Robert grins, heading for the exit for the next part of his plan.

He’s in the room next door striking the match and setting fire to the mattress within minutes while Aaron keeps watch on Rebecca in case Dan comes looking. She’s squirming and making muffled noise that Aaron just can’t risk at this late stage in the game so he improvises, He thinks what would Robert do? as he hovers over her dangerously.

“I wouldn’t be making all that noise if I were you, Miss White” He smirks, knowing he looks worse than Eli did on Aaron’s first day here “Because you crossed a line darling, seducing my boyfriend like that. I should cut your fucking throat for it” Her eyes widened impossibly. “Luckily, I’m nice enough to let you wait here unharmed until Dan comes, but if you blow this for us and draw too much attention to yourself, I might just-..” He draws his finger across his throat slowly, plastering a fake grin on his face when she nods in agreement “Good Girl.”

Robert comes for him as soon as he’s locked the door to the other room, the flames were confined enough to go unnoticed until the smoke disturbs the alarm giving them just enough time to get themselves to the music room. They jam Rebecca’s door shut and give one last glance down the corridor before running down towards the music room, all before Dan comes back from his smoke.
They barricade the door to the music room shut with the various instruments and furniture they can find, it’s barely a few minutes before the sirens start wailing and screams of Fire! are echoed down the corridor. Robert leads them over to the vent, pulling the grate off with minimal force before letting Aaron go first and then following him, making sure to pull the cover back over before he leaves - another step ahead of security.

The crawl space is tight and hot, the sirens are wailing and so Robert’s having to shout directions to Aaron as he guides them through the ventilation system, it feels like forever until they open the shaft cover and drop down into the pipe-works. It’s old like Robert had said, the pipes are mostly cast iron and outdated but the heat radiating from them is scalding and they know they can’t stay down there for long, Robert points in the direction of the exit before gripping onto Aaron’s hand as they make a run for it. They can hardly hear the rest of the commotion as they near the end of the tunnel, this is it.

The door is like something from a sci-fi film with a turn-wheel to unlock it, it takes both of their brute strength to get it turning anti-clockwise and finally pop open. “The car park is just outside here, it should be empty but run for it anyway” Robert explains breathlessly “Keep running, don’t stop until you can’t run any more. If I fall behind, promise you’ll keep running” Aaron nods fervently, taking time to push his lips hungrily against Roberts as though it’s the last chance he’ll ever get to taste him, and it just might be.

“If anything happens… you know?” Robert gasps

“I know” Aaron breathes, panic setting into his chest

It’s raining outside and pitch black, there’s the vague noise of the commotion over the other side of the building but it’s not close enough to cause a threat. They shut the door quietly behind them as they step through the undergrowth that’s been hiding the exit for a number of years, there are a few cars in the car park but otherwise it seems eerily empty. Robert whispers a short Go! and suddenly they’re running for their lives.

Chapter Text

It feels like they’ve been running for hours, Aaron’s legs are tired and jelly-like, his jogging bottoms soaked up most of the rain and are weighing heavily on his hips. He slows down to a stop and turns to see Robert catching him up, the hospital has been out of sight for ages but they’re out in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside and there isn’t a bright light in sight. The rain is still coming down heavily but they’re okay for now, panting as they walk down the lane just able to make out the shape of a derelict farm in the distance.

Their walk is silent and tense as they’re constantly looking over their shoulders, by the time they reach the derelict building they’re feeling a little bit safer. From a quick sweep of the perimeter this is the only building for miles and actually, it’s in ruin - no one would ever suspect them staying in a place like this that looks like it’s about to crumble any second. Robert wordlessly leads Aaron by his elbow down into the overgrown grass and over a kicked down fence, it looks like chickens were kept here but many years ago now, the place is lifeless and dead but it’s safe and it’s dry and it’s home, for now.

Inside isn’t much better, the place is practically upside down with broken furniture and old fashioned memories. They find their way up the rickety stairs that look like they’ll collapse any second, the dust is inches thick and the whole place smells musty and damp. In the room there’s a leak in the ceiling, Robert looks around and finds an old rusty bucket, angling it underneath the opening so it catches the rainwater. There’s a bed, an old spring mattress with a floral patterned cover that they shake out in case of rodents, there are none thankfully.

Aaron’s suddenly aware that they’re both soaking wet and shivering, his bones ache from the cold and his teeth are chattering noisily. A quick fumble through the abandoned wardrobe results in slightly cleaner clothes for them to wear. Aaron laughs as Robert dresses himself in a plaid button down and black high-waisted slacks that look like they belong in the dark ages. “What?” Robert laughs “I think I look rather smart.” Aaron’s outfit isn’t much better, he’s in a grey under-shirt and similar trousers to Roberts though Aaron’s a head shorter than him so Robert bends down to fold up the hems at his ankles, teasing the younger man affectionately.

If they weren’t so exhausted from their adventure Aaron might have suggested they pass on a night sleeping in the rickety old bed, it looks less than hygienic and even worse for comfort but considering Robert has just broken them out of a high security mental institute he reckons he can last one night on the creaky, threadbare mattress. Plus, the idea of finally getting to sleep in Roberts arms outweighs any apprehension he has for his surroundings.

He’s laying with his head on Roberts chest, their legs tangled at the bottom of the bed when the reality sets in, they’ve made it, they’re out, they’re free. He leans up with his chin on his hand watching as Robert breathes, his eyes shut and seemingly sleeping until he slides his hand under Aaron’s shirt and rests it on the small of his back. “You watching me sleep?” he murmurs quietly, the quiet pitter-patter of rain in the background.

“It’s just hit me that I can do that now” Aaron answers softly.

“What? Watch me sleep?”

“That too, but… anything. We can literally do anything, we’re free”

Roberts grip tightens on Aaron “We are” he muses, raising his free hand to push his fingers through Aaron’s still-wet hair, now clinging to his head in dark curls.

“Thank you” Aaron whispered into the dim-light “Not just for tonight, for everything”

“Thank you” Robert whispered back, smiling

“What for?”

“For just being here with me”

“Soft lad”

“Your Soft lad though”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah”

Aaron crawled up the bed daringly, no fear now it was just the two of them and pressed his lips against Roberts softly, whimpering lightly as Robert wrapped his arms around his waist and pulled him on top of him. Roberts mouth is warm and inviting, his tongue sliding effortlessly around Aaron’s mouth as his hands hold him firmly in place, fingers stroking softly at the exposed skin beneath his shirt. He’s never felt this wanted, never felt this safe.

They sleep for a few hours, bodies pieced together like a puzzle the steady thrum of their heartbeats the only background noise against the slowing rainfall and their steady breathing.

It all seems so perfect.

It’s like they were meant to be here all along.

--

Aaron hadn’t realised how tired he was but he managed to sleep for hours wrapped up in Roberts protective hold. He awoke a while later, swallowing the thickening in his throat and rubbing the stickiness from his eyes as he stretched his body, the movement rousing Robert who’d barely moved all night. The rain had fallen to a stop, the morning sun leaking through the net curtains and creeping across the bed. The room looked different without the darkness, less scary and more like a home. The walls were papered in a sickly floral print that had faded over time, what was left of the shelving and beams were lined with cluttered ornaments and knick-knacks.

He tilted his head to watch Robert, staring into nothingness with a solemn expression, seemingly not noticing Aaron who was now fully awake in his arms. “Penny for your thoughts?” Aaron spoke softly, so as not to startle him. Robert turned to face him, his mouth breaking out in a small smile as he set eyes on Aaron, his now dry, dark curls unkempt and framing his face, his curious blue eyes staring up at him childlike as he returned his smile, cheeks tinged pink from the cold. “Just planning our next moves” Robert returned just as softly “How are you feeling?”

“Free” Aaron smiled warmly, pressing a kiss to Roberts chest “I honestly didn’t think we’d make it”

“Then why did you go along with it?” Robert asked curiously

“Because I trust you” Aaron said easily “and I’d rather be suffer the consequences than not even give us a chance of a future together”

“We’re going to be okay, you and me” Robert smiled, leaning down to kiss his forehead

“Yeah, we are” Aaron sighed, leaning back into Roberts chest.

--

It’s still early when they climb from the creaking mattress, Aaron is paranoid that the whole place will be surrounded by officials searching for the two absentees but Robert reassures him that he’s done this before, he’s practically a professional and what other hope as Aaron got but to believe him? Their clothes are only slightly damp now, mostly from the cold night but Aarons happy to be back in his own size of bottoms, he’s not willing to traipse around the streets in jack-ups with the hems folded over like he’s six years old. He takes an old brown knitted jumper from the wardrobe, the material makes his skin itchy but he’ll look less noticeable in it than the signature sweater from the hospital.

Robert’s content to stay in his new look and Aaron can’t help but think button-up shirts suit his slender form quite nicely, even if they look like they’re from the wrong decade. While Aaron dresses himself Robert is busy fumbling through the various drawers and cupboards until he comes across what he’s been looking for, a map of the surrounding area - it’s the first thing on their list of necessities, it puts them one step ahead of anyone searching for them.

“We are here..” Robert jabs his finger into the bottom corner of the map “It’s about two and a half miles to the nearest village, we need to use a phone there but we need to be vigilant, it’s probably the first place they’re going to look for us”

“Well doesn’t that mean we should bypass it completely and head somewhere else?” Aaron frowns, scanning the map for any signs of the next village - there doesn’t seem to be one popping up, it’s just trees and acres of land”

“Here” Robert drags his index finger across many squares until he reaches a large town “It’s too far to walk without food, or water..”

“So what happens when we get a phone?”

“My contact, he’ll send a car for us.. then we’re out of here” Robert says confidently

--

The walk to the village isn’t very far but it takes almost twice the time because they’re taking the off-road route in fear of being spotted on the open country paths. Aaron doesn’t mind too much, if he takes his thoughts from how much his feet hurt and his body is shivering from the dampness he’s able to enjoy the scenery. He strokes his palm down the smooth skin of a horse roaming the fields, he hasn’t ever felt this free in his life - even before he was sentenced to the life of lunacy and he can’t help but feel like he’s floating, like none of this is real and it’s all just a happy, drug-induced dream.

Robert brings him back to reality with the tug of his wrist, dragging him into his side and pressing a messy kiss to the corner of his mouth because that’s a thing now, they’re a thing and Aaron can kiss Robert as much as he likes with no disapproving glances and referrals to Doctor Mason. He lets Robert tangle their fingers together, warm against his large palm - swinging between them as they take the first few steps into their new life together.

“What’s the first thing you want to do when we’re out of here?” Robert asks randomly

Aaron lists off all the things in his mind that they need to do to be okay “Well I suppose we should find somewhere to live.. a job..”

“Not what we need to do, what do you want to do?” Robert pushes

It’s weird because Aaron’s never had this, a chance to dream and have ambition because before now it was never ever going to be a reality. It grounds him to the think of a real life, a grown up life where he’s making his own decisions and really, he can do anything he fucking wants to.

“I want to go to the seaside” Aaron blurts randomly

Robert side-eyes him for a moment “What, you want to do the whole sandcastle thing?”

“No” Aaron blushes, shaking his head “I haven’t been since my Mum left, it feels like.. I don’t know..”

“Happiness” Robert says simply “It’s the last time you were truly happy”

He gets it, he really does - and it’s comforting, because they have this connection that Aaron’s never experienced with anybody else and he can’t imagine someone he’d rather be running from everything with.

He starts to think that things can only get better.

--

Chapter Text

Aaron doesn’t get to hear the details of Roberts contact, but he’s not naive enough to think the whole thing is kosher - he knows that for this bloke to owe Robert so much then Robert must have been involved in something really dodgy the last time he was here. He doesn’t question it, ignorance is bliss and all that. They’d found a payphone outside the village shop and after swiping a blokes wallet while he was checking the bus timetable managed to find enough coins for Robert to make the call. Aaron had stayed out of the way, crouching behind the headstones in the village cemetery, pretending to pay his respects but really concealing himself from the view of the busy-body villagers.

“We’ve got an hour to kill and then we’re out of here” Roberts voice came from behind him, kneeling down next to him.

“This grave.. it says Sugden..” Aaron said quietly, tracing his fingers across the gold engraving.

“Mum’s here” Robert said thoughtfully, straightening up the wilted flowers at the base of the headstone “and now Dad’s gone she’s all on her own”

“What about your er..” He didn’t want to say brother, knew Robert hated to think of him like that “..your siblings?”

“It’s my Grandmothers birthday this week, they’ll be in Spain with her”

Aaron was happy they wouldn’t have any unscheduled run-ins with the remaining Sugdens but couldn’t help notice the usual sparkle in Roberts eyes had dulled, he knew that family was a sore subject and wondered if leaving the village behind - the village where he’d been born and raised - was a good idea. It was forty-five minutes later when a car arrived, the windows had been tinted and there was no license plate. Aaron felt uneasy from the minute he sat in the plush leather back-seat but Robert seemed at ease and so Aaron began to relax.

It was another hour before they reached anywhere, Robert had spoken about meeting up with an old friend to pick up paperwork and money to set themselves up, he specifically said this wasn’t the man who’d sent the car - he liked to remain private and so Aaron was surprised when they pulled up at a suburban looking house with a people-carrier in the driveway. It all looked so normal, and Aaron thought they must have the wrong address when a young woman came to the door, all smiles and shiny teeth as she greeted Robert like an old friend.

“I’m Leyla” The woman - Leyla - greeted, inviting them both inside “I’ve been told all about you, apparently our Rob here is smitten”

Robert rolled his eyes playfully as Aaron blushed “I see you’ve had all the gossip Ley”

“Not all of it, that’s where you two come in - I want to know all the juicy details” She grinned, leading them into the kitchen area.

“Right” She started “I’ve made a bed up for you both, clean clothes are in the wardrobe and the hot water is on for you both to get cleaned up”

“Are we staying?” Aaron asked, eyes widening a bit - he hadn’t been told this part of the plan

“We need to spend a few days here while the paperwork comes through, Can’t have fake papers without passport photos and what-not so we’ll need to have some pictures done but it’s all fast-tracked - we won’t be here long” Robert explained, reaching out for a glass of orange squash that Leyla put on the counter in front of them.

“Thanks” Aaron nodded, reaching out for his glass “So what happens after that?”

Robert looked over at Leyla who nodded, excusing herself to the garden where a little boy was running around with a football.

“It’s best that Leyla doesn’t know the ins-and-outs” Robert explained “So she’s clueless if anyone asks questions - it’s better for her that way”

Aaron nodded, looking out of the conservatory door to see her throwing the ball to the boy without a care in the world.

“We’ll wait for our papers, relax here - just treat it like staying with a friend - then we’ll leave, go wherever you want to go” Robert smiled, resting his hand on the nape of Aarons neck.

“Anywhere?” Aaron voiced

“Anywhere” Robert confirmed “We’ll have enough money to set us up until we get jobs, just need to find somewhere to live and go from there, fake names and new lives”

“Sounds so simple” Aaron frowned, waiting for the other shoe to drop

“That’s because it is” Robert grinned “Told you, I’m the expert - trust me”

And Aaron did, he really did.

--

Aaron was grateful to be in modern clothing that actually fit his body properly. The shower had been hot, cascading down his skin and soothing his sore muscles - the shiver in his bones fading with every splash of water. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms now, and a long sleeve grey top - his hair ruffled and fluffy now it was beginning to dry. Robert was looking similar, his pale skin tinged pink from the warmth and his slender form clothed in a t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, hair pushed to the side by his fingers - he looked boyish and pure, Aaron couldn’t remember seeing him look so alive.

They got all of the official stuff out of the way rather quickly, passport photos and new names; they’d opted to stay as Robert and Aaron for the ease of it all but instead of confusing last names they’d taken each others - they would be living as Aaron Sugden and Robert Dingle, Aaron hadn’t wanted Robert to be a Livesy - the memories were too painful and though he hadn’t seen the other side of his family in years he knew whose name he’d rather be linked to.

Leyla had been a great host, they’d met her nephew Jacob as they all sat around the table eating lasagne and the eight year old had invited Aaron outside to play football with him. Robert watched from the patio with amusement, watching Aaron run around all care-free and happy - it was a sight to behold. Leyla came to sit next to him, a book in her hand as she smiled warmly at the sight.

“He’s settling in well” Leyla commented, taking a sip of her wine

“He’s happy” Robert smiled “happier than I’ve ever seen him”

“It’s just the beginning” Leyla patted his hand gently “There’ll be loads more happy memories to make now you’re both starting your lives together”

“I hope so” Robert sighed “I hope it all works out”

“It will” Leyla smiled softly “I’m sure of it this time”

“I’ve been here so many times before Ley, and I’ve been taken back there so many times”

“You’ve got Aaron this time” She said firmly “It’s going to be different this time”