A man of the people. A young, working class Labour politician who vowed to advocate for the rights of young people, who vowed to work on behalf of the people of Leeds North West who elected him, a popular alternative to the well known, and less well liked political figures who had dominated the constituency for years. Robert Sugden was the alternative - from a farming background, passionate about politics, passionate about Yorkshire.
Yorkshire’s golden boy, the pride and joy of the British Labour party, Sugden has been tipped to take over party leadership come the next election, following a disastrous election led by long-time leader Thomas Harrison that ended with Labour’s lowest return of MP’s in over twenty years.
Until this week, when Mr Sugden has found himself in a spot of bother. Robert Sugden’s personal life has remained largely under the radar, aside from his surprising public coming out five years ago, where Mr Sugden announced through his social media accounts that he was bisexual, going on to become chair of Labour LGBT during the year of the organisations 40th anniversary in 2015. This week, socialite, blogger, and well known Tory supporter Rebecca White broke the news to the world media that she and Robert had carried on an affair for close to eight months, all while Robert was seeing Chrissie White, CEO of White Industries - also a massive contributor to the Conservative Party - and Rebecca White’s sister. Oh, yes, Mr Sugden decided he’d rather keep it in the family on this one.
How will Robert Sugden ever recover his career from a scandal of epic proportions like this? Tired, out-dated Thomas Harrison could be looking down the barrel of one last general election, with people calling for Sugden’s resignation from Parliament. It’s clear Sugden’s deeply held Labour values don’t run as deeply as first thought - not when there’s a woman involved.
“They’re calling me a traitor to the party,” Robert said, furious. He couldn’t help but slam the newspaper down on his kitchen counter, anger bubbling in his veins. It’s not like they knew anything, was it? It’s not like any of these rags knew anything about Robert, about who he was, who he wanted to be with, what his past relationships meant, and they were talking as if Robert had been selling Labour party secrets to someone as absolutely gormless as Rebecca White.
“You represent working class people, Robert,” Leyla said, sitting at his kitchen island, completely unfazed as she sipped on her coffee, watching him have what felt like his fiftieth breakdown of the week - and it was only Tuesday. “You having it off with Chrissie was bad enough, but at least we could spin that as her being a respectable, hard-working CEO who’d saved her fathers drowning business.”
“That’s exactly who she is,” Robert sighed, thinking of his ex-girlfriend. They hadn't stayed together long, in the end, but it hadn’t been a relationship that the press had eaten up. Chrissie wasn’t interesting to them, no skeletons in her closet - just a business she was passionate about.
Rebecca had always been the live-wire. Maybe - maybe that had been what had drawn Robert to her, when he thought about it. Rebecca had always been exactly what the papers had wanted her to be - a ditzy blonde who disgraced her father by going on big brother and copping it off with a former footballer, a demure woman who lived and breathed the Conservative party. She was whatever got her headlines, and brand-deals, and she was exciting - Rebecca was the type of person to go to the airport with her passport in hand, and go wherever she felt like going.
Robert had craved that kind of excitement. He loved politics - he wouldn’t have ran for election, all those years ago if he didn’t love it - but sometimes Westminster felt stifling, the seriousness of it all, the etiquette, the business they had to attend to. Peoples lives were impacted every day by the decisions they made in the Houses of Parliament, and sometimes (just sometimes) Robert had craved someone who was so oblivious of it all, someone who was more concerned with having fun, than changing the world.
It had been refreshing, for a while, until Rebecca had demanded they take it public, and Robert had realised that she’d fallen in love. Maybe it was cruel, but he couldn’t imagine himself ever loving her - Robert had dreams for his future, and the Labour Party leadership was the ultimate dream for him, and that wasn’t achievable with Rebecca by his side.
He didn’t want her by his side, anyway.
Rebecca - well, she hadn’t taken it well, had she? He’d assumed she’d gotten over it, in the six months since he’d ended things, but Robert should have known better, he should have known it would come back to bite him.
An exclusive with Hello magazine. Years spent working toward becoming an MP, years of his life being damaged by a bloody Hello magazine interview, Rebecca dabbing at crocodile tears as she whined about an affair with MP Robert Sugden that bore absolute zero resemblance to the reality of it.
But then again, papers didn’t care about the truth, did they? Papers cared about selling stories, and scandalous headlines, and be damned if the truth was lost in their quest to gander the most internet traffic from people who wanted to see even the most vaguely famous of people fail.
“And you knew the moment you decided to sleep with Rebecca, that she was a risk,” Leyla said, setting her coffee mug down on the counter, flicking her hair over her shoulder, a reproachful look on her face. “She’s notoriously fame hungry, Robert.”
“I know, I know - I just, I felt stifled by it all, you know? Politics feels suffocating sometimes,” Robert sighed, flopping down onto the couch. “I didn’t sleep with her because of her insightful opinions on politics, I slept with her because she was attractive. Why does this have to impact on my career so badly?”
“You know why,” Leyla said. “You may be a politician, Robert, but that doesn’t mean you’re not free from press scrutiny. You’re a public commodity, and you’re probably one of the more interesting people in the Labour Party right now - of course the country watches when you make a mistake.”
“Journalists are vultures,” Robert mumbled, feeling the beginnings of a migraine thrumming in his neck, his forehead. It was as if he’d had a permanent migraine, since Rebecca and her ridiculous story broke.
“They are,” Leyla confirmed, moving so she was sitting opposite him on the couch, a notebook balanced on her knees. He’d worked with Leyla for years now - she was the PR powerhouse behind most of the Yorkshire based MP’s, always knowing when, and what to release something to the press. Robert had never had to have her clean up after a scandal, not in all the years he’d known her, and he didn’t like it - he didn’t like having to sit in front of her like a child, and know Leyla was about to dictate his entire life for him.
“There’s a but there, isn’t there?” Robert raised an eyebrow. He knew Leyla well enough by now to know when she was waiting to tell him a master plan of hers. There was a reason she was so good at PR, he supposed.
“Yes,” Leyla confirmed. “They may be vultures, but they’re vultures we can use to our advantage. What do you need right now?”
“A time machine and a restraining order against Rebecca White.”
“True, but I’m thinking in more achievable terms,” Leyla said. “You need to repair your image, and you do that by showing off a nice, stable relationship with someone who your voters will like - someone from Yorkshire maybe, similar background to you, someone who represents the kind of people who vote Labour.”
“Like who? I don’t have time to start dating when I’m home, and it’s not like anyone will want to date me now - I’m a disgraced politician, Ley.”
“That’s why you’re going to fake date someone,” Leyla grinned, looking incredibly satisfied with her own plan.
“Oh, good - let’s give someone else a story to sell to the papers, eh?” Robert stood up, frustrated again. It felt like an impossible situation, and he really didn’t see how starting a fake relationship in the midst of a scandal that was rocking his career to its foundations was a good idea.
“Funnily, I know a good lawyer or two, and theres such a thing as a confidentiality agreement,” Leyla said pointedly. “Anyway, I already have the perfect person for the job - and it’s the best, and quickest way for you to fix this mess. You have a general election in two years you’re supposed to be working toward, and you can’t do that if your reputation is as damaged as it is now.”
Robert glanced at his front door, wondering if he could just leg it, and start his life over somewhere far, far away from London, from Yorkshire, from all the controversy that was dragging his once glittering political career into the gutter.
It wouldn’t be impossible, he mused.
“Robert,” Leyla fixed him with a serious look. “When have I ever led you wrong?”
Robert had first worked with Leyla about six months into his first term at Westminster, and ever since, she’d been the only person he trusted when it came to his PR - she had a point. “Okay. Who is this person? Why are they so perfect?”
“Because they’re the kind of person you want voting for you,” Leyla grinned, flipping open her notebook. “His name is Aaron Dingle, he’s from Hotten originally, but moved to Emmerdale when he was sixteen.”
“Emmerdale?” Robert raised an eyebrow. It had been a long, long time since he’d been home, having left at eighteen to go to Leeds University, and stayed in Leeds ever since.
“Yes, Emmerdale,” Leyla confirmed. “It’s to add to your cover story, I’ll explain that later. Anyway, he’s a trained mechanic, a real salt of the earth kind of guy. And gorgeous, too, if you ask me - he boxes, in his spare time, volunteers at a local gym.”
Robert still felt uncertain, insecurity tugging at his chest. “A guy, though?”
Leyla gave him a sympathetic look. “I know it’s daunting, going public with a male partner, but honestly Robert, it’s not as if you’d be the first - Leo Varadkar, remember? Irish politician? He went public with his partner before the leadership election there, and it didn’t hinder his chances.”
Robert knew. Of course he knew - he kept tabs on every single out politician there was, all to try and ease his own nerves, his issues with being out and proud. Slowly but surely, the world was changing, but being a part of that change, being the one with a boyfriend on his arm? Robert wasn’t sure he was ready for it.
“I didn’t pick a guy on purpose,” Leyla said. “But this guy, Robert, Aaron - he’s perfect, he’s what you need right now.”
Well - it wasn’t as if Robert had any other options, was it?
Robert let out a long suffering sigh. “Alright. When do I meet him?”
“Tomorrow,” Leyla said, looking delighted he’d agreed to her plan. “We’re going back to Yorkshire, and you guys will meet then - he’s agreed to come to yours for dinner. You can chat, get to know each other a bit, and then we can set the wheels in motion. He’s signed a preemptive confidentiality agreement, and we can put together a more comprehensive one if you go ahead with this.”
“You really were just waiting for me to say yes, weren’t you?”
Leyla nodded. “I’m in charge of your PR for a reason, Robert - I’ll solve this, okay? Trust me.”
“I do,” Robert admitted. In all honesty, Leyla was one of the few people in his life he trusted completely, without question. She’d never let him down, not once - and having spent so much of his life being left down by the people he loved, Robert was all too aware of how much Leyla and her support meant to him.
“Then shower, get yourself in order, and pack a bag,” Leyla said, closing her notebook again and standing up. “I want to see the old Robert Sugden back - all smiles and a neatly pressed suit, please. You have a potential boyfriend to impress.”
“I don’t know how ready the old Robert is for that,” Robert tried to joke. “He was always a fan of the closet.”
“No, he really wasn’t,” Leyla said, pressing a lipstick stained kiss to his cheek. “In all seriousness, your flat is disgusting and so are you. If we’re to repair your image after all this, please start with your actual image.”
Robert scratched at the beginnings of a beard that had begun to spout on his chin, itchy and uncomfortable and oh-so out of character. In his own defence, he hadn’t left the house in over a week.
Maybe - well, no, Leyla was right.
“Your train is booked for 9am, Robert!” Leyla singsonged, heading for the front door of Robert’s London apartment. “Don’t be late.”
“Bye, Ley,” Robert called after her, looking around his apartment as she left him alone. There was takeout boxes everywhere, scattered across his dining table, his kitchen counter, dishes piled high in his sink.
He’d really indulged the side of him that had wanted to wallow, since the story about his affair with Rebecca had broken, but that was over now, Robert decided, tearing a new bin-bag off the roll stashed inside one of his cupboards, gathering up the worst of the rubbish.
Robert Sugden had never just laid down and allowed life to happen. He hadn’t done it at eighteen, when he had no one left in the world who cared, and he wasn’t doing it now, all because of some fame-hungry idiot he’d been stupid enough to sleep with.
No, Robert was going to be prime minister one day - and if a long overdue shower and a fake relationship was where he needed to start, than so be it.
Rebecca wasn’t going to be the end of his career.
(And maybe this guy Leyla had in mind was going to be it’s saving grace.)
Despite what his family might tell you, Robert really did love Yorkshire. Regardless of how many times he’d taken the exact train journey he was on now, Robert never appreciated those first views of the countryside that had made him who he was any less.
There was something magical about those rolling hills of Yorkshire he fought so hard for every day of the week down in London, going to meeting after meeting, doing his best for the people who’d elected him. Of course - of course there was an element of ego, of selfishness when it came to politics. No politician would ever admit it, of course, but you had to like the public side of it all, your face in the paper, television interviews - if you didn’t, you’d be best suited to a very different career.
For once though, Robert was wishing there wasn’t such a public aspect to his career. He had perfectly good hearing, thank you, and he could hear all the whispers of his fellow passengers, people revelling in the great scandal that Robert’s career had become.
Vultures, the lot of them.
He’d never been more glad to have his train chug into the station, Robert sliding into an Uber as fast as humanly possible, the gossiping grannies who were huddled around the station doing their best to make sure every single person in the station knew Robert was there, and God, what was he thinking, shacking up with a woman like that?
(Robert had spend a lot of time lately wondering the same.)
Next time, Robert decided, slotting the key into the lock of his house, he was driving back up to Leeds. But he was home now, at least, and well - your home was your haven, wasn’t it?
Robert sill remembered the day he’d signed the papers for his house in Leeds. He’d had to save for years to even afford the deposit, but he’d gotten there, in the end - scrimped and saved, and finally he’d done it, he’d bought a house of his own - an old, crumbling townhouse in the city he’d taken years to finally make perfect, make his own, but he’d gotten there.
This house was his safe haven - away from the bustling life he led in London, a lifetime away from the modern, smart apartment he called his home Monday to Friday. No, this house - this house was Robert’s, and he couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as he tossed his keys into the waiting bowl in the hallway, leaving his bag by the stairs.
It was funny, really, how something as simple as making himself a cup of coffee in his own kitchen, the place where he and Leyla had planned a very successful election campaign, the place where she’d held his hand as he’d cried his heart out, too scared to come out, and not left with any other choice but to do exactly that, publicly and proudly.
Everything felt more manageable when he was in his own home.
The loud buzz of his doorbell roused Robert from his daydream, and he padded toward the door, his heart racing at the thought of who was there. Leyla, and his brand new fake boyfriend.
Robert might have come out, all those years ago, but he’d never publicly had a boyfriend. The prospect of that alone was terrifying, and that was even before you realised this new, very public relationship was the last hope for Robert’s political career.
No pressure, then.
“You don’t look terrible today,” Leyla beamed approvingly, looking far too put together for someone who’d apparently driven to Leeds at six am that morning, her bright pink suit an assault on his senses.
“Thanks, I showered,” Robert drawled, noticing someone hovering behind Leyla. He didn’t look very comfortable, standing in Robert’s driveway, wearing a plain blue jumper and a pair of jeans, his black trainers scuffed at the toe.
He wasn’t exactly Robert’s type, if they were being honest.
“Come in,” Robert swallowed his concerns, knowing the paparazzi were absolutely still hanging out around his road, just waiting to catch a glimpse of Robert doing something else wrong.
“Aaron, this is Robert,” Leyla said over her shoulder as they stepped into Robert’s house, Aaron quiet as he shut the door behind himself. He was a little shorter than Robert, but he looked stronger - broad in the shoulders in a way Robert would be a fool not to appreciate.
“Aaron,” Robert tried the name out for size. “Thanks for coming.”
Aaron looked as though he was sizing Robert up, quiet for a painstakingly long time before he nodded. “Said I would,” he replied simply, his voice rough, and gravelly, a proper Yorkshire lilt colouring every word as they rolled off his tongue.
“Let’s have a coffee!” Leyla said brightly, handbag swinging off her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen, as at home in Robert’s house as she was in her own. “We have a lot to discuss.
Before Robert could say anything, Aaron was mooching after her, trainers squeaking against Robert’s pristine floors in a way that made him wince, already anticipating scuff marks on his very expensive floor.
So much for a good first impression.
“Coffee, tea?” Robert offered Aaron, his coffee machine already whirling in the background. Leyla would probably have been annoyed, if Robert didn’t know her coffee preferences by now.
(He definitely ordered her favourite Nespresso capsules in with his food shop every week, just to be sure he always had some on hand, Leyla a permanent fixture in his life, scandal unfolding or not.)
“Please,” Robert muttered under his breath, flicking the kettle on. Not to judge someone within the first five minutes of meeting them, but Robert was really struggling to see why the hell Leyla would this Aaron was the saving grace of his career - he didn’t seem to even have the most basic of manners.
“So,” Leyla helped herself to the biscuit tin, settling into one of the chairs at Robert’s kitchen island. “Aaron has already signed a basic confidentially agreement, so anything we discuss this afternoon is not to be repeated - even if we decide not to go any further with this,” she said, snapping open a folder, pushing a signed document toward Robert.
Robert set a cup of tea in front of Aaron, pushing milk and sugar toward him, grateful Victoria had done him a basic food shop, the previous evening, his sister swinging wildly between wanting to help him, and wanting to murder him for putting his career on the line over someone so ridiculous (her words, not Robert’s - not that he disagreed.)
“If you agree to do this, I have a second confidentiality agreement, and a contract of sorts - all it really says is that the relationship will be ended upon the mutual agreement of both you and Aaron, once you believe it has run its course and there is no more benefit to be gained from it. At that time, I will release a pre-prepared statement to the press on your behalf Robert, the usual nice, fluffy breakup kind of press release, and I will also release a second one on your behalf Aaron, just saying theres no hard feelings, you greatly respect Robert and the work he does, and you will not be giving any press interviews, etc,” Leyla reeled off, pushing two more documents toward the both of them.
“Theres nothing much in the contract regarding the actual relationship,” Robert commented, flicking through the first few pages.
“Robert Sugden, I have no intention of telling you how to fake a relationship in a contract,” Leyla rolled her eyes. “There has to be an element of reality here, and if you decide to go ahead with this, you need to figure out how your relationship works best for both of you. Anyway, be quiet and let be finish. Upon completion of the agreed terms, Aaron, you will be given a sum of 20,000 pounds.”
Robert raised an eyebrow. “When did we agree on that?”
“This has to be mutually beneficial, Robert,” Leyla rolled her eyes. “As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted by you, Robert, Aaron will receive 20,000 pounds when the relationship is over. If you ever give an interview or release any statements that reveal the true nature of this relationship, Aaron, Robert will sue you for every single penny you have, and then I will come along and sue you for every penny you don’t have, for breach of contract.”
Robert barely stifled a laugh at Leyla’s very serious threat, and Aaron’s wide-eyed reaction. “I still think we need some terms relating to the relationship,” he said, glancing over at Aaron, who was intently reading the contract.
“Like what?” Aaron asked, brow furrowed.
“Something that guarantees you’ll fulfil the kind of obligations I need a partner to,” Robert said. “That you’ll attend events with me, that we’ll have at least one public date a month - the kind of things that will have the spotlight on our relationship, the kind of things that will have people believe we’re really together.”
Aaron was quiet for a second. “Events in London, you mean?”
“Well, yes,” Robert replied, raising an eyebrow. “I’m based there three weeks out of the month, I will need you to be there a decent amount of time too. Who is going to believe I just don’t ever see my boyfriend?”
“I have a life in Leeds,” Aaron countered snappily, annoyance flashing across his face as Robert spoke.
“A life you are more than welcome to continue living,” Leyla glared at Robert. “But you will need to spend two or three days a week in London, Robert is right - the point of you doing this is to get Robert the good PR he doesn’t have right now, and for that to happen, you two will need to be seen in public together.”
“You should have put that in the contract then,” Robert smirked, earning himself a slap across the shoulder from Leyla.
“I want more money at the end, then,” Aaron said, closing the contract. “If I’m going to change my entire life to suit being in London that often, I want more money.”
“My office will cover your travel costs,” Robert said, raising an eyebrow at Aaron’s request. “And there’s a spare bedroom in my London flat, it’s not going to cost you a thing.”
“Except time with my family, and friends - and I’ll have to start working less hours, to accommodate being in London that often,” Aaron said. “Don’t I deserve to be compensated for that?”
Leyla looked at Robert, and shrugged. “He’s not wrong.”
Robert barely held in a sigh. “Fine - up the money to whatever you think is appropriate, Leyla,” he said, taking a swig of his coffee. “I’m going to get some air,” he mumbled, doing his best to look as though he wasn’t storming out of his own kitchen in a huff.
He really, really didn't want to do this. Aaron - he was clearly in it for as much money as he could squeeze out of Robert, and it was probably all going to go tits up anyway. Who was going to vote for an MP with a boyfriend? Who was going to make that MP party leader?
It was never going to work.
“Who are you, and what have you done with the smooth, sexy Robert Sugden I know could seduce Aaron in ten minutes flat?” Leyla asked, joining him in the garden, a disappointed look on her face.
“He’s dead,” Robert grumbled, folding his arms across his chest. “What were you thinking, picking someone like him, Ley?”
“I was thinking about how much you need someone real, and ordinary to give you back the local boy fighting for his people image that’s made your career as successful as it is,” Leyla said. “He’s local to your constituency, he’s from a rural working class background like you are.”
“And he’s a grumpy, rude, git,” Robert huffed, not caring if Aaron heard him or not.
“A grumpy git who’s willing to help you out,” Leyla said pointedly. “He’s giving up his privacy for this, Robert - you know that as well as I do. Dating a politician as prominent as you are, it comes with consequences.”
She was right.
Of course she was right.
Robert wasn’t going to tell her that, but she was definitely right.
“All I’m saying, is give him a chance,” Leyla said, giving him a pleading look. “I don’t just help you out because it’s my job, Robert - I do it because I believe in you. I voted for you. I don’t want to see your career end over this.”
Robert couldn’t help but smile at her. “You voted for me?”
“Don’t let it get to your head,” Leyla rolled her eyes. “Get back in there, and get to know him, and then decide. I’ve got a few errands to run, and I’ll be back this evening.”
“Fiiiiiine,” Robert said, not caring how much of a petulant child he looked like, there and then.
Just because he was agreeing to do something, didn’t mean he was going to do it with any enthusiasm.
“I’m a grumpy git, am I?” Aaron said, the house feeling eerily quiet as Leyla left, handbag swinging as she shouted out a goodbye of ‘don’t kill each other’, leaving Robert and Aaron to their own devices.
“I mean, you can hardly blame me, can you? You’d swear I was offering you poison, when I asked if you wanted tea or coffee,” Robert rolled his eyes, chucking his now cold coffee down the sink.
“I mean, I don’t know you, do I? This could all be an elaborate murder plot,” Aaron smirked, the first glimpse of a personality breaking through his grumpy exterior.
Robert couldn’t help but return the grin. “Maybe it still is.”
Somehow - somehow, a stupid joke eased the tension between them, even if just a little.
“I guess - I guess I should ask you summat about yourself,” Aaron said, messing with the cuff of his jumper, the blue material pulled down over his hands. “Summat a boyfriend would know.”
Robert sat down next to him, the granite of his island worktop cold under his fingertips. “You should probably know I have never had a proper boyfriend,” he admitted, Aaron’s look of surprise making something twist uncomfortably in his stomach.
“Really? Chairman of the Labour LGBT group has never had a boyfriend?” Aaron raised an eyebrow.
“It’s easier to be the poster boy for LGBT politicians than deal with the scrutiny of actually being a politician with a same sex partner,” Robert said, thinking of all the events he’d headed up, a pride flag pin on his suit. “No one writes trashy articles on your sex life if you’re walking in a pride parade once a year.”
“So people are going to write trashy articles on our sex life?” Aaron snorted. “What am I getting myself into?”
“A life plagued by the British press?” Robert offered. “It’s coming up on an election year, and considering all the rumours about me running for leader, and this whole Rebecca thing - every move I make is going to make it on the front page of the Daily Mail.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“As long as I get on the front page of the Times the next day and they talk about my legislative work, I don’t really care,” Robert admitted, unbuttoning the cuffs of his shirt sleeves, rolling them to his elbows.
“I don’t know much about politics,” Aaron said, looking at Robert intently. “But isn’t that what’s supposed to matter anyway?”
“In an ideal world,” Robert nodded. “But people - they want to know all the juicy bits too, you know? And you’re not supposed to give them what they’re looking for, but I made a mistake, and I did, and now that’s all they care about - I could start rescuing puppies out of the Thames, and journalists would still find a way to make it about Rebecca.”
“God - why would you even want to be an MP then? If that’s the kind of thing that happens when you slip up? We’ve all slept with someone we shouldn’t have, it’s hardly fair to nail you to a wall over it.”
“I love my country,” Robert said simply. “I want to make it a better place, and I can’t do that if I give up because someone wrote a mean article about me. I just - I need to clean up my image, and then I can focus on what matters most, the election.”
Aaron nodded, looking contemplative. “Do you have any food?” he inquired.
Robert raised an eyebrow at the abrupt change of subject. “I can order something in, if you’d like.”
“I’m starving,” Aaron said, his words pointed.
Robert reached for his mobile phone, swallowing a smile. “Food it is, then.”
“I was expecting to come back to a war-zone, not the two of you slobbing on the couch and eating pizza,” Leyla wrinkled her nose up at the greasy remains of their Domino’s feast.
“We were hungry!” Robert said defensively.
“What would Jamie Oliver think?” Leyla teased, referencing a meeting the TV chef had recently had with Labour MPs.
“He’s a boring prick,” Robert rolled his eyes, shooting a crumpled up napkin at his open bin. “There’s a reason I haven’t put out a tweet buttering him up like everyone else has, Ley.”
Aaron snorted. “He needs to eat more sugar, he might be a bit happier.”
Robert couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s exactly what I said, but apparently that was too inappropriate to have on record.”
Leyla beamed, pointing between the two of them. “This is nice, you’re getting on better than you were this morning!”
“Pizza bonds people,” Robert quipped, unable to deny it. In the few hours since Leyla had left, they’d ordered food, and they’d actually talked - not about politics, not about the contract, or the fake relationship, but about the kind of things boyfriends knew about each other - their favourite films (anything with Tom Hardy in it) their opinion on pineapple on pizza (rancid) and their worst date stories (Aaron had won that one.)
Robert - well, he was staring to see why Leyla had been so convinced that Aaron was the right fit for this.
“Are we going ahead with this then?” Leyla asked, looking absolutely delighted with herself, assuming her plan had worked.
Robert looked at Aaron, wanting to leave the decision to him. He wanted to say yes, he wanted to do this - but he still wasn't sure where Aaron stood, despite their hours of chat.
Aaron held out a hand. “Give us this contract, then.”
Robert had been back to Leeds, a couple of times since Aaron had signed the contract. Considering the fact the Rebecca story had barely just broken, Leyla had decided they should take it slow - and Robert was inclined to agree.
He had been doing his best to keep a low profile, going to work and back to Leeds at the weekend, Aaron coming to his house and the two of them slowly getting to know each other over dinner, an unspoken nervousness between them as it became more, and more likely they needed to announce their relationship soon.
Robert - well, he couldn’t help but wonder if he could really do this, if he could really be the kind of out and proud politician a relationship with Aaron called for, but there was no turning back now, not really.
Not when there was an invitation on his desk to a Labour party event the next, and Leyla in his ear telling him this was it, this was the perfect opportunity to announce his and Aaron’s relationship to the world - a fundraising dinner, and a chance to show Aaron off to all the people who were so convinced Robert wasn’t fit to run the party and take them into their biggest election year yet.
Swallowing his doubts, Robert pressed Aaron’s contact, the familiar sound of a dial-tone in his ear as he waited for his (fake) boyfriend to answer. They hadn’t spoken on the phone much, really, hardly at that point of the tentative, strange relationship that was building between them.
It was a business relationship, at the end of the day, and business contacts didn’t ring reach other on the phone every evening to say goodnight - that just wasn’t how life worked.
Aaron’s voice sounded tired, gravelly in a way that had Robert wondering if the other man had just woken up. It was early, all things considered - Robert had been in the city for seven thirty, a pre-breakfast meeting only the beginning of what was going to be a very, very long day.
“Hi, Aaron - it’s me, its Robert,” Robert said, wincing at his own words. “Have I woken you up?”
Aaron’s reply took a few seconds. “Yeah,” he said, his yawn audible. “It’s my day off.”
“Sorry,” Robert said, his apology sounding insincere even to his own ears. “I have an event, this weekend - a Labour party event. Leyla, well, she seems to think this is the best time to go public with our relationship, and I’m inclined to agree. It’ll be low key enough that you won’t be under any pressure, but people will definitely know once I’ve brought you to a party event.”
“You don’t need to convince me,” Aaron’s reply crackled down the line. “I did sign the contract.”
Robert couldn’t help but smile a little. He had, hadn’t he? “Okay,” he nodded, leaning back in his desk chair. “You’ll need a suit, it’s a formal dress code.”
“I’ve got my funeral suit,” Aaron replied. “It’s a nice enough one.”
Robert nodded. “What colour?”
“Black, it’s a funeral suit - it’s hardly purple Robert.”
“I just want to be sure we don’t match, I do have some self respect,” Robert rolled his eyes, messing with the end of his tie, thinking carefully. It was all about the first impression, with events like these - it was going to be the first glimpse of Aaron his party colleagues got, and it had to be a good one, if this was going to work at all. “If you could wear a tie that’s got some red in it, that’d be great.”
“I’ll find something. When do I need to be in London, then?”
“Thursday night, that’s when the dinner is,” Robert said. “I can - I can introduce you to my office, on Friday, really get the ball rolling on this.”
“We’re really doing this then, yeah?”
Robert glanced out of his window, the hustle and bustle of London stretching out for miles in front of him, everyone busy to get somewhere, to meet someone - the kind of hustle and bustle he wasn’t sure he was ever going to get used to, regardless of how many years he spent living most of his week in the capital.
“Yeah,” he nodded, a print out of yet another article calling into question his political abilities on his desk in front of him, his assistant reluctantly keeping him up to date on the opinions of the gossip magazines who were still blasting badly photoshopped photos of him and Rebecca across their pages (he’d moved from the front cover, to page four now, at least.) “We are.”