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changing times

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They’d known the day was coming for weeks, now - years, really, considering how Seb had thrown himself head first into college, determined to get his top class A-Levels, and go to the university of his dreams. They were proud, of course - it wasn’t every day that your son got into university, not to mention the fact the university was the University of Edinburgh, of all places, but it was still strange to be coming back to an empty house.

They’d driven up with him - how couldn’t they? Sebastian had insisted he drive most of the way, something which had Robert on edge from Newcastle onwards, but they’d sort of had to allow it, really. Their son was out on his own, now - the least of their problems was Seb cutting it a little close to the speed limit on the motorway.

“I miss him already,” Robert admitted, setting his bag down on the couch. They’d gotten the train back down, Robert worrying his entire way down from Scotland, listing off a thousand things that could possibly go wrong now Seb was living in a student flat, Aaron doing his best to reassure his husband that no, their eighteen year old son was not going to get kidnapped walking to a lecture.

Aaron pressed a kiss to Robert’s clothed shoulder, giving his waist a squeeze. “I know, me too,” he hummed his agreement. “But he’s going to have the best time, Robert - you know that.”

Robert huffed out a sigh, collapsing onto the couch. “That’s what I’m worried about. What if he has so much fun he doesn’t want to come home?”

Aaron couldn’t help but laugh. “He’ll be home once he realises he has to do his own washing and it doesn’t appear magically ironed and folded at the end of his bed,” he said, flicking on the kettle, the sound deafening in the silence of their house.

You’d be surprised, how used to the noise you’d get over the years.

“It’s too quiet,” Robert mumbled, something Aaron couldn’t quite make out caught between his fingers. He padded across the room, what it was becoming entirely obvious as he got closer - it was Sebastian’s old giraffe teddy, the one he’d had his entire life.

The one he’d been too grown up to bring away to university.

“He was always going to have to grow up,” Aaron said, his tone sympathetic as he took in the sad slope of Robert’s shoulders, the reality of Sebastian being gone hitting Robert like a tonne of bricks now they were back in their quiet house.

“I know,” Robert sighed. “But I still see him as the little boy who needed you to hoover the monsters out from under his bed every night.”

Aaron couldn’t help but laugh, remembering all the nights Sebastian would stand on his bed, and demand Aaron get the hoover and make sure there was no monsters left before he could sleep.

It felt like five minutes ago, and a lifetime ago all at once.

That was parenthood, Aaron supposed.

Before he could properly reply, the front door went, a chorus of loud voices breaking the unbearable silence they’d come home to, Leah practically swinging off the front door as she burst inside, her hockey gear hanging off one shoulder, blazer presumably stuffed into her backpack, despite Robert’s meticulous ironing. “Dad, dad!” she beamed at them, dumping her stuff on the floor, throwing her arms around Aaron, hugging him tightly. “Did he cry, when you left Seb?” she asked cheekily, Aaron wondering when his daughter got so tall, Leah practically his height these days.

“Oh, like a baby,” Aaron grinned, Abigail tucking herself under his other arm once she’d dumped her stuff on the floor alongside Leah’s. “How was school?” he asked.

“Booooring,” Leah rolled her eyes. “All they did was sit us down and talk about how important exams are, this year.”

“Well, they are important,” Aaron countered, flicking her on the forehead. “How was training?”

If Sebastian has been the bookworm growing up, Leah was the athlete of the family. She’d tried every sport under the sun, over the years (including a memorable occasion after she’d stared kickboxing where she’d broken Isaac Dingle’s nose), but hockey was her new passion in life.

“I’m better than everyone else on the team,” Leah grinned, pressing a kiss to Aaron’s cheek before she headed for the kitchen, pulling out a carton of milk. Every inch her fathers daughter, when it came to confidence - and the grin on Robert’s face told Aaron he was thinking the same.

“How was school, Roo?” Robert asked, flashing Aaron a concerned look.

Maybe - maybe it had been because he had the most boisterous older siblings possible, but Rueben had always been the quietest of their kids, introverted and quiet in ways Leah and Abigail had never been.

Rueben shrugged, setting his bag down carefully before he padded across the room, tucking himself under Robert’s arm. His uniform almost looked too shiny and new, the sleeves a little long on their youngest, his curly hair an unruly mess as he pressed his face to Robert’s shirt.

He looked more and more like Aaron, the older he was getting.

“What happened, eh?” Robert asked, his voice soft, and quiet. Fifty had made Robert calmer, his husband growing into his older age in ways Aaron hadn’t expected, mellow in ways he’d never been when Aaron had first met him.

“It’s a lot bigger than primary school,” Rueben admitted, his voice still quiet. “What if I don’t make new friends?”

“It’s only the first day, Roo, you’ll have more friends than you know what to do with soon,” Abigail shook her head, Leah loudly shouting her agreement from inside the fridge, where she was ruining her appetite no doubt, the familiar sounds of packets being torn open a clear signal she was tucking into one of her self proclaimed epic sandwiches.

Robert wrapped his arms around Rueben, practically tugging their youngest onto his lap. “It’s a big change,” he hummed, pressing a kiss to Rueben’s hair. “But give it a few weeks, and you’re not even going to be thinking about how different it is.”

“Promise?” Rueben looked up at Robert with those bright blue eyes none of them had ever been able to say no too, his brow furrowed.

“Promise,” Robert reassured, cuddling Rueben close. Aaron knew exactly what his husband was doing - it was the same thing he did every night he’d check on Rueben and heir youngest was still away, Aaron happy to clamber in alongside him and cuddle him half to death, cherishing all the moments he had left to be an embarrassing dad before Rueben decided he was too cool for dad cuddles.

“How about Chinese tonight?” Aaron suggested, wincing as Abigail let out a delighted yelp right in his ear. “I reckon we can make a proper night of it, go out and eat ourselves stupid - and make Seb jealous he’s missing out.”

“I bet he’s having chicken nuggets for dinner,” Leah grinned. “It’s the only thing he knows how to make.”

“I can’t believe he’s going to come back with anaemia,” Robert groaned, cuddling Rueben a little closer. “We’re having mandatory cooking classes once a week now, I can’t believe Seb is going to live off chicken nuggets and Tesco ready made meals now.”

“Go on, go and get changed,” Aaron said, pulling Rueben in for a bone-crushing hug as he untangled himself from Robert, wishing he could give their youngest even half the confidence the twins had.

Almost as soon as the girls were upstairs, they turned music on, the sound thumping through the entire house, Rueben tugging at his tie as he traipsed up after them, Leah yelling at him to hurry up so they could FaceTime Seb before dinner.

“We’re going to be okay, aren’t we?” Robert looked up at Aaron, greyer around the edges now, but every inch the man he married all those years ago now.

Aaron settled himself down next to Robert, swinging his legs over his husbands, the noise from upstairs deafening. “I reckon we’ll be fine,” he grinned, pressing a gentle kiss to Robert’s lips.

“DAD! Dad, quick - Sebastian is going out with his housemates and he looks ridiculous, come and tell him he can’t go out dressed like that!”

Seb’s annoyed voice burst out tinnily from the phone Leah was dangling over the bannister. “Leah, shut up, I’m older than you! And have you seriously stolen my favourite shirt? I wanted to bring that to uni with me! Dad, tell her to take it off!

Aaron couldn’t help but laugh, snorting into the material of Robert’s shirt. “Which dad do you think they mean?” he joked, watching as Rueben snuck past his sisters, wearing a ratty old hoodie of Sebastian’s, throwing himself down on the couch next to them.

“If we stay quiet, will they just fight it out themselves?” Rueben inquired, a cheeky grin on his face.

“I think it’s worth a shot,” Robert said in a stage-whisper, pulling Rueben in close as Leah and Sebastian fought it out on FaceTime, Seb demanding Leah post him the shirt right that second, or he was going to drive home and take it off her.

Sebastian might be a few hundred miles away now, but it didn’t seem like anything much was going to change.

Aaron was happy with that.