Actions

Work Header

The Scars of You

Chapter Text

He felt the scrape of Aaron’s beard against his skin. Rough, unfamiliar and wanted. Robert wanted him. It was a fire in his belly, it was the anger, it was the anger…. maybe it wasn’t arousal that was burning underneath his skin. He should have punched him. He messed with his car. He loved that car. He worked hard for that car. He shouldn’t have grabbed him. And he shouldn’t have thrown him into the wall, fallen into his eyes and taken in his mouth. He definitely shouldn’t have kissed him.

Kissed Aaron, his breathing gone harsh and knowing, knowing it wasn’t about being angry.

Because everything was white hot. All his blood rushed to all the right — wrong — places. It burned. And he needed to extinguish it. Burn it out. Ride it — Aaron — out of his system. This time it would be enough, he’d fuck him and burn the irritating pulse of want that clacked in his head whenever he laid eyes on him.

Robert turned at the top of the stairs. Aaron was right on his heels, a scowl on his face, but he ducked his head to the left. Silent acceptance that this was happening. They went down a blessedly short hall. Robert wanted no time to think, he just wanted to dive into the lust burning up inside of him. It felt intense and crazy. He felt like he was shaking with it. The want.

Wanting Aaron.

He slammed him against the wood of the bedroom door. Seconds after they made it through. It’d felt too long from the bottom of the stairs. It was insane. He shouldn’t be doing this, but he felt powerless against it, the thrumming want in his gut. The thud of Aaron’s body against the door rocked through both their bodies. Aaron growled, at least it sounded like one to Robert, but it was a half sound, swallowed as their mouths crashed together.

The desperation he felt burning under his skin was matched by the force of Aaron in his arms. Against his body. They moved in sync, they swayed together forward and back. Robert shoved his tongue into the heat of his mouth. Then Aaron was yanking at his jacket, tearing it from his body and unease threatened him. Because it felt familiar and that felt good. It couldn’t be that, though, this was nothing. This was a moment, this wasn’t anything. Aaron was nothing but an itch. He was scratching it. As if on cue Aaron’s nails scrapped his belly as he grabbed onto his jumper, pulling Robert back to the moment and more fire pooled into his belly.

Robert grunted not wanting to give up Aaron’s mouth. But he pulled away, only long enough for Aaron to get his jumper over his head. Then he was back, licking into that mouth, tasting him. Beer and something male. Something coiled and recoiled inside of him but he shoved it away. It was easy to do when Aaron’s palms were rough against his skin. He wanted that, he needed that. And he shoved at Aaron’s hoodie and got his hands underneath it, he fought for skin, he needed to feel it, he needed to touch Aaron’s skin. And he felt it, hot under his palms and sighed into Aaron’s mouth. Hands scrambling to grab at his clothes because it was a bad idea to have anything between them.

“No...” Aaron’s voice was muffled by his hoodie and Robert wasn’t sure if he heard him right, but he dropped the clothes and stalled himself from reconnecting their mouths and sought out his eyes.

“What?” He whispered, and he felt the rough scruff of the hair on Aaron’s cheek under his fingers. His eyes fell onto his hand, confused to how it got there. Watched as he stroked his thumb across the angle of Aaron’s cheek.

But Aaron wasn’t looking at him. He looked distracted. His eyes were eyes ducked down. Robert tried to catch his gaze and was suddenly soaring in blue skies. They were brilliance. Robert froze. No, no… men’s eyes aren’t anything, they aren’t. They aren’t. He squashed the thoughts as quickly as they rose instantly relieved that Aaron was avoiding eye contact.

“Nothing…” Aaron said in a strangled voice before he surged forward, locking their mouth together. And Robert realized he forgot the question and tried to remember. But it was an impossible thing, not when Aaron’s mouth was wet heat against his. Not when he felt the burn of Aaron’s beard against his skin. The desperation. The heat of everything rose up again and clouded all his thoughts — Good. I don’t want to think.

Robert felt Aaron’s hands on his hips, manhandling him and his calloused fingers against his skin. Rough at his face, rough at his waist. Aaron was dipping his fingers underneath the band of his jeans, and it sent his stomach flipping. There was strength in Aaron’s hands, in the way he shoving at Robert. And he loved it, it loved it. Loved the weight of him. Aaron’s ability to control him. So different to how Chrissie shoved and pushed at him…

But then he was shoved onto a bed, and all thought left his brain. He scrambled up it, using his elbows as leverage. Both fighting and moving with Aaron, who was yanking at his belt and unbuttoning his jeans. Robert rolled his hips off the bed and felt the rush of air against all of him. He shivered, and his cock swelled thicker. He leaned up on his elbows, tongue against his bottom lip, meaning to pull Aaron over him, slot their mouths together again, feel the press of all of him against the length of Robert’s body…

Only Aaron was out of reach, standing, naked from the waist up at the end of the bed, fighting with his belt buckle. Robert thought, he should help him, but he was quickly distracted by the thought he’d yet to see Aaron without a shirt, and the lamplight in the room was enough for him to see. So, there was no stopping himself, he raked his eyes up Aaron’s body.

He’s beautiful.

The thought was like shards of glass in his skull. Robert shoved it way, fast and quick. He had to change it. Remember who he was and what he wasn’t. No. Look at him. Aaron’s a man. Fit. Rough. Robert moved up higher on his elbows, seeking out everything masculine about Aaron’s body. The hair under his belly button, the flat of his stomach and want rolled in his gut and he palmed his erection. This was what it was, wanting a man — it happened sometimes, it meant nothing. He liked the look of them, but they weren’t beautiful — that was Chrissie. Chrissie was beautiful. She was all he beautiful he needed but sometimes…

His eyes fell on Aaron’s chest. He was fit. Muscles in all the right places, he raked his eyes over him. Hard angles, flat pecs. When they’d press chest to chest, he’d feel hair against his chest like he does his face. He wanted it, that scrape and pull. The burn and the red skin that would follow. He wanted it rough. And Aaron was that… rough. He wasn’t beautiful. He was a man. All male and rugged and he even had scars…there were scars.

Scars.

Robert was on the end of the bed before he knew it. On his knees, looking down at Aaron’s stomach. Something hurt in his chest, his heart was squeezing, as he ran a thumb over one. It was old but deep, he felt the indent under his thumb, and Aaron froze, stiffened under the touch. Robert stopped stroking it but didn’t move, his eyes on them and something buzzing in his ears.

“Robert…” his name sounded wrong, and his eyes flew up and met Aaron’s. “Don’t…” Aaron whispered.

Robert felt something crack inside him, it hurt, but he felt fear at the idea of pinpointing it. He didn’t want to. He didn’t know what to say, but he did know what Aaron was asking.

“How about this…” he said and took swift action. In seconds he had Aaron under him on the bed. He kissed down his stomach, felt Aaron stiffen, but he ignored the scars. He pressed his mouth against Aaron’s hot skin anywhere else. But he noticed every single one with a hammering heart. And he fought against his own mind, trying to silent the thought: every inch of him is beautiful. Instead, he did what they both wanted, he touched Aaron, he gave into the desperation that was between them, and he took. Aaron writhed under him, hands in his hair, he said his name. Robert inhaled as he reached Aaron’s erection, mouthed at it through his boxers and teased him until Aaron begged for more.

~~~

You don’t even want the ring.

Robert huffed at the truth of it, but the anger his skin feel tight as if something been ripped away from him. Just like everything else. Taken from him and handed to Andy. A golden ring for the Golden Boy. The one who wasn’t the disappointment.

It was a punch and with that punch came fire, flames, smoke, and screams. It pummeled him having broken out of the box he trapped in, and Robert tripped into a stop. He kicked the dirt, stiffened up and locked it up again. The memories trapped and relocked — not that it made it disappear. And the truth stayed, stinging his eyes and making him want to crawl out of his skin. Bitter and angry.

Because Andy took and took from him. It was a bottomless pit. Everything that was Robert’s handed right to him along with all the care. Everyone cared about Andy. Andy’s feelings mattered. What Andy thought mattered. What Andy wanted mattered. All the things. What was left for him to have? Nothing. Nothing at all. Maybe he didn’t want the bloody ring , but they could’ve asked him, he should’ve been considered. It was his dad’s ring…You hate him… he tried to cushion the blow, but Robert ended up choking on that lie.

It was like they wanted it to hurt him. Don’t be boring, Robert. It’s what Jack would’ve wanted Robert, the decision is mine… Yeah, Diane Sugden, carrying on the grand tradition of not giving a shit about him that’d been started by the late great Jack Sugden. His father, some father. That was boring. He kicked the dirt under his feet one more time and started walking again. He hurried up his stride, he didn’t feel far enough away from the Woolpack, and a piece wanted to turn around and storm back inside to get in all their faces. To make them see him.

He was about to turn when he saw Aaron. In his peripheral at first but it made him still, his attention caught. Something about the man, always tugging at something that lived under his skin. His car was slowing, Aaron had seen him too…. It made something thrill up his spine, and he wished it’d burned out his upset about the ring. But he made his way toward Aaron and not the bar and maybe he was just the right distraction, just the thing he needed. Why not have him one more time? The sex was amazing, it worked, it fit, he wanted more and really when did he deny himself?

Some small talk and he was in the car, felt himself slumping into the seat and telling Aaron to just go anywhere. Away. Just get him away from all of them — his so-called family, not one of them on his side. Ever. He tried to clear his heat, he tried glancing at Aaron and caught him looking back a few times…

He looked moody too, though that seemed a default for Aaron. He seemed worried about something? Was it him? Was there maybe someone on his side? In all of this? Maybe somehow… Robert shook himself, he shouldn’t be thinking like that… Chrissie. Chrissie’s going to be your wife, you should be with her? But he didn’t want to be, he didn’t want to deal with her right now? She’d listen to him for a bit, but then it’d come back to her, her needs, her son, her father, her money…

He needed a fucking respite from people who didn’t give a toss about him. Aaron liked him enough, it seemed, at least enough to fuck him — and that was all he really needed. They’d go get a drink, and things would progress, yeah, Robert tried to relax his shoulders. Maybe he could get Andy and the fucking dismissal of it all out his head…

But then they walked into the bar.

“What’s this?”

“A bar.” Aaron rolled his eyes.

“What sort of bar?” He knew what sort of bar, it was making his skin get tight all over again, another sort of anger roiling through him.

“One that serves drinks.”

“Is this a test?” He snapped, irritated with Aaron’s sarcasm and his nonchalance about where they were and what it meant. It means nothing.

“Well, if it is you failed it.”

Irritation flew out of his mouth, not even sure what he’s saying, he feels like everyone is looking at him. Can see him here with Aaron and it’s ice against the back of his neck, sharp and burning cold, and a buzz filled his head because he can’t quite figure out how he got from screaming in the Woolpack to standing in a gay bar.

“Can I let you into a little secret and all?” Somehow the question gets through the buzz

“What?”

“They serve people who aren’t gay.” Aaron belted out before walking away and toward the bar.

I’m not gay. I’m stra… It’s on the tip of his tongue, but Aaron’s not even there to hear it, and he can’t finish it anyway. Instead, something else flickered far in the back of his mind, until he shoved that into another locked box he kept inside of himself. Robert told himself to leave, to just go, but he found himself walking after Aaron to stay, because what did it matter. Right? It was a place. It served alcohol. He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t. And it was away from them. They’d never see him here, they’d never find him here, they wouldn’t even consider it. No one would know. But Aaron.

Who was the reason he was here. He needed to feel something other than all the pain echoing inside of him, reminding him how nobody cares about what mattered to him. But he knew what Aaron could do for him, touch him and thrust with him. They would grind together, and all the thoughts in his head would turn to dust. It didn’t matter where they were, it was the inevitable end, and that was his only goal.

Chapter Text

This was a mistake. He felt like he swallowed a bug, the back of his throat felt tight. Breathing was strange. All he could see were men. Holding hands, their heads bowed in toward each other, hand’s sliding up thighs and against waists. There was touching going on under tables, out of sight but you knew it was there, and in the darker corners, and he didn’t want to think about where it was all leading. It was crawling up his skin, he didn’t care, he didn’t care what they did, what they chose. He just didn’t want to see it. It wasn’t him. This wasn’t him.

Robert glanced at Aaron but felt himself sliding backward in his seat. The last thing he wanted was to be part of the spectacle. This wasn’t a date, that wasn’t happening. He didn’t date men. Ever. It was a line drawn in his mind, in the place where he made these decisions. No dates, no gay bars, it was simple and kept all the lines pointing in the right direction. His life was Chrissie, and with Home Farm he’d be part of Emmerdale’s community. Bloody Emmerdale. Not really his choice, he was told to never look back, and he’d never meant too but maybe a part of him liked it. Liked he was back…home? He was a Sugden, after all, it was his birthright.

No son of mine.

He clutched the beer in his hand, knuckled turned white and drank it. Trying to drown out that voice, that phrase, that tone. He shouldn’t be here, this was a mistake. He’d made a wrong turn, this day had gotten right away from him, and somehow he’d ended up in a gay bar with gay man… And didn’t matter how much he wanted Aaron. He looked at him again, thoughts of them, together, naked and he craved it. There was a thrum under his skin for it, but it wasn’t the beacon of light it felt like earlier. His anger about the ring was twisting in like a knife in his gut.

He wouldn’t want you to have the ring. That’s the truth of it. And this is why. Look where you are? What are you doing here? It’s not right.

“Forty-five.” Yet Aaron’s voice cut through his thoughts and his eyes flew to him. “That’s forty-five minutes you’d not said one word.”

“Well, I’m just soaking up the brilliant atmosphere…” he snapped remembering it’s Aaron’s fault, he brought him here. He glanced around again and wished to make what he saw into something else. He was a Sugden he didn’t belong here.

No son of mine.

“Might help if you contributed.”

“Well, I don’t see you on a table dancing with your top off.”

“Weird, cause that’s what all gay men do when they’re out,” Aaron rolled his eyes but sighed, looking at him like he knew something Robert didn’t. “So you gonna tell me what’s up,” Aaron asked.

“Diane gave Andy my dad’s wedding ring. He’s having it melted down to make two for him and Katie.”

“That’s nice if you’re into that sort of thing…”

“Well, I’m not into getting kicked in the teeth as it happens.”

“How is that a kick in the teeth?”

“Of course it’s a kick in the teeth? I’m his real son, Andy’s just adopted.” Robert clenched his jaw, he wanted to shout until anybody listened, it wasn’t rocket science. He was Jack Sugden’s son, and the ring was rightfully his, he had stakes on it. It was his, and he should’ve been considered.

He wouldn’t want you to have it. Look who you're with… He’s gay, and he’s a Dingle.

“I’m pretty sure it counts for exactly the same thing….”

Robert scowled because it didn’t, it just didn’t, why didn’t anyone else see that… that Andy was always taking everything away from him and what bloody right did he have to do it?

“And anyway what about Victoria?” Aaron pointed out.

“Well, I’m older than her,”

“Andy’s older than you.”

“Sorry, whose side are on here?” He frowned, he thought maybe just maybe Aaron might side with him, might listen. They got on, sort of didn’t they? They had… something. They were here, where they shouldn’t be, but it’d been an offer of a drink, seeing he was… Off. Why wasn’t he listening?

“I just don’t see why there has to be sides. Don’t you think you’re just being a bit soft?”

Soft? Was it soft to want something meant to be yours? To expect the things your father owned were meant to be handed down to you and not some interloper, especially Andy, Andy who… heat bombarded him, burned at his skin but he shut the box and pretended it was from his frustration. Pain and hurt and no consideration. He stared at Aaron and felt all his rage start to pinpoint right onto him.

“Well, I don’t expect you to understand it, your family being what it is.”

“Sleeping with our brother's wives and all that… Don’t be pathetic.”

Pathetic. Him? No. He wasn’t pathetic, but he was tired of feeling stepped on for the night. That was over, try to hurt him and…“Pathetic. Yeah, no, I’m pathetic? Think I might just go and cut myself. Where’d you get those scars? in an unfortunate yachting accident?”

Fuck.

Regret pricked under his skin, but it wasn’t strong enough. He couldn’t fight against thinking about fire, or fight hearing his father’s voice as it tangled up with his own. The bloody ring and that bastard Andy. He was losing. He was always losing, and it didn’t matter to anyone. He only had himself. He was angry and he needed to cause damage, or the raging buzz would never fade.

Aaron lunged forward onto the table, knocking the beer bottles and snarled at Robert. “Unless you want a slap, I suggest you keep your mouth shut.”

“You aren’t touchy at all are you.”

“You don’t know the first thing about them.”

“You don’t know the first thing about me. I mean look where you brought me...” His teeth ground together. “A gay bar.”

Aaron’s eyes trapped him then, blue and furious, angry and he felt pulled right back into him and hated himself for it, but the anger was rolling, and the voices in his head weren’t shutting.

“Maybe I know you more than you think. Maybe I’m the only one who knows you at all,” Aaron ground back.

It made his blood run cold, and there was only one recourse. “You know what. Have fun, having a drink, with your friends.” He slammed his beer bottle down on the table and strode off and told himself to forget Aaron Livesy.

~~~

It doesn’t work.

Robert tried to fight it. To head off the thoughts, ignore the guilt that nagged at him for turning on Aaron. For using the one weapon in his arsenal of Aaron knowledge that he could to hurt him. Even if that thing was something that meant Aaron harmed himself. He hadn’t let himself think about it, that those scars were self-inflicted, it made things inside of him hurt, there were things he didn’t understand, and it was uncomfortable and made him want run from Aaron.

Which was the plan, wasn’t it? It was bad enough he’d stayed in his head but then suddenly Chrissie was onto Ross, which meant she could get onto Aaron — and he couldn’t have that, he couldn’t have any of it. She couldn’t know he was the one behind the break-in, not when Lawrence had a heart attack —and it was his first. Robert couldn’t even feign the shock, but he’d managed to refrain from an I-told-you-so — Chrissie’s fury been good for him, he’d been able to worm in with Lawrence even better than expected really. He needed to protect himself, Aaron shouldn’t be a priority.

But here was chasing him down the street, terrified if Ross were caught he’d throw him in it, terrified it will all come out and come down on them both. It was throwing him, he wasn’t going to think about it, he wasn’t but…

“Look, look you don’t want to talk to me I reckon but they’re going to be all over this place in a minute, and you got to get away…” Aaron kept walking, and the need to force him to listen took over. His hands grabbed him, turning him toward him and he shouted, “I’m not mucking about Aaron. Get yourself away.”

And there was his face, his eyes, all of him looking at Robert. It was too much, it was too much, he’d told him what to do… maybe the look in his eye meant he’d listen. He walked away, nothing else said, but he kept looking back, heart pounding. He had to rein in Chrissie, for himself, for himself, for himself…

And he spent a near week expecting the house of cards to fall on him but somehow even with the wildcards of both Lawrence and Ross he managed to keep everything from falling to pieces around him. Aaron being gone felt both like respite and an irritation… it was like his thoughts doubled on him and kept trying to remember why he’d told himself to walk away. A gay bar, Aaron testing him, thinking he is gay? Aaron thought he knew something about him but he can’t, he doesn’t, he hasn’t a clue…

You want him to.

What was it about Aaron Livesy? That had him so spun. This wasn’t how it worked with men, it wasn’t what he did with them… That was just, caving into that thing inside of him. He wasn’t gay, he was straight… Robert shook himself and told himself again to stay away from Aaron. Forget him. He had the life he wanted, that worked for, that he needed to have… He needed it. He just had to keep away. So, it was good he was gone.

He’s nothing.

~~~

Adam Barton reminded him of a dog. A large dumb dog that never stopped barking. It wasn’t Robert’s fault the bark was loud or that he could hear everything he and Aaron were saying. It wasn’t his fault it impossible not realize they wanted to go into business together. He was impressed by the initiative, it wasn’t an easy to thing to do, and he and Aaron had things working against them. Not that he cared. He didn’t care. Not about Aaron. He definitely didn’t care about Adam and god his laugh was annoying, and he never seemed to stop… Seemed unnatural to always be that happy-go-lucky, maybe he was a dog?

His eyes went to Andy and Katie, at the opposite side of the bar. Both of them loudly ignoring him. It was pathetic, really, like he cared about them and their wedding. It was all they could talk about to anyone near them, mostly Diane, who was eating it up and making it sound the event of the century. It was gonna be some pedestrian and stupid ceremony — on Christmas? Who does that? Gets married on Christmas? It was ridiculous, and he wanted nothing to with it anyway.

But he ended up tracking Andy and Katie as they left the pub, something heavy in the pit of his stomach and waved over Diane for another pint wanting to numb his brain, maybe it could stop him from thinking. He should go home, Chrissie would be there, he should go be with his future wife. Robert started to lift up from his seat…

Aaron’s laugh drifted toward his ear, and he felt himself settle in the seat again. He glanced over, and the two friends were still tossing out ideas for companies, for things they could do, dreaming up a future. He watched Aaron, he was focused on the conversation, there was no chance of getting caught. Better yet there was no chance of that icy glare Aaron been pinning with whenever their gazes happened to lock. They kept bumping into each other, the curse and irritant of small town living. He hadn’t missed that in London, he hadn’t missed that at all. He wondered why he hadn’t fought harder against Chrissie. Moving back here was the last thing he wanted, but she’d been so adamant, for her own reasons, her personal issues, for Lachlan and her father. If he went home, she’d go on about Lachlan, probably, the little freak always tying her up in knots.

“Shut up,” Aaron playfully punched Adam, his whole face lit up in a smile, and the word beautiful was buzzing around Robert’s brain again. He turned back to his pint. He drank down half of it and pleaded with himself to stop. Just stop. He didn’t though, his eyes stayed on Aaron no matter what he said to himself, he couldn’t bring himself not to look.

Diane hovered around him, and he looked up at her and said the first thing that came to mind. “Uh, all set for tomorrow?” Like he cared, he didn’t care, it was his brother’s lousy wedding. With their shiny rings that should be yours. He sighed, he didn’t want it to hurt, he didn’t want to hear that bitter sound ringing in his head.

“Don’t tell me you wish you were going?” Diane asked.

“I think it’s a bit too late for that,” he said, and really it was his own fault, and he knew it. It didn’t matter to him, though. He could care less about Andy and Katie. It had little to with him. It wasn’t like he was around, he couldn’t have been even he wanted to — which he didn’t — Dad had made sure of that hadn’t he… No one looked out for him. He ground his teeth and pushed a way the thoughts and sought out Aaron again.

“What about urrr…local cab firm. Come on it’s crying out for one. I nearly missed my curfew last week cause I had to wait forty minutes for one,” Adam said.

“Mum and Debs already tried it though, it doesn’t make enough money.”

“That’s cause they didn’t have us two running it.”

Robert shook his head the man was a moron and Aaron didn’t seem any more impressed than him. But then he said the word investment and before he knew it his mouth was wide open. “You might get a bank stupid enough to give you some money if you get a proper business plan together.”

“Oh, yeah, thanks nosy, what it got to do with you anyway?” Aaron snapped.

So much for a peace offering, if that was even what he’d meant by it. He wasn’t sure what had made him say it. Any excuse maybe to talk to him? But he wasn’t supposed too, he was supposed to stay away. Maybe he just wanted to help? No one ever helped him, no one ever cared enough to. He found he wanted to help Aaron?

He’s nothing.

So, he held up his hands in surrender. But second later Aaron was leaning against the bar, close enough he could smell him. It was intoxicating, and he leaned closer and heard his big mouth spouting off. “You can buy me a pint if you want, say thanks for smoothing things over?”

Silence.

He couldn’t take it, he wanted his attention and that guilt he’d been trying to ignore since he’d put his foot in it in the bar rose up in the back of his throat, like bile. And his voice softened as something inside him made him try again. “Alright, then I’ll buy you a pint.”

Aaron sighed and stood up straight. “I don’t want anything from you.”

It hurt, in a way he’d never experienced before and it made him angry. He’d been trying there, and he meant it. He wasn’t supposed to do it, he was meant to stay from Aaron. But that pull was keeping him in his seat, kept him from going home, and maybe it was the only thing that was quelling the part of his brain that was buzzing still about Andy and his dad and that ring. So maybe when Adam walked up to the bar later, despite knowing Aaron would get angry — no because he knew it. He started talking Adam up about investing into the cab company.

Chapter Text

Dad would be proud.

It was still rattling around his head. Wouldn’t stop all mixed up with the truth about Jack Sugden. He wasn’t proud, and Robert could scrap and fight and earn all things he wanted, and he’d never hear those words. Not even Chrissie, not even his job with Lawrence, likely not even coming home to Emmerdale would crack the wall between him and his dad. Dad. It was a laugh, and he flinched in the mirror as he touched the bruises on his face, the pain of different long gone marks ghosting over his skin.

Maybe it was why he made Andy hit him, to feel it all again. Remind himself why he was fighting so hard for what he wanted. The status, the money, the wife and a better life than any farmer — though he liked to think that he worked hard, that the fact he earned it might matter. He’d never know, but he couldn’t believe they would, how could anything make Jack Sugden proud of him? He’d sent him away, it was a laugh to say it was to protect him. He tossed him out and told him he ruined everything he touched. Why was he the monster?

No son of mine.

A knock at the bathroom door made him startle, heart in his throat for a second and he turned to see Chrissie walking in. She frowned at him and touched his face. “Are you going to tell me why your brother did this?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s his wedding today, maybe you should try talking to him again.”

“No, Chrissie…” He shrugged her off.

“Robert?”

He walked away, he couldn’t deal with her right now. Just couldn’t let her touch him. Would it be different if it was Aaron? The thought made him go cold, where that’d come from? It had to stop. He had to stop it. Aaron was nothing. Nothing. He found himself in the foyer, Dog by the door scratching and he sighed. It would get him out of the house anyway, maybe he could breathe if he had some fresh air. Clear his head of both Andy and Aaron. Of the past.

He ended up in the cemetery staring at his father’s grave.

“Well, here I am… back. Not that you care, told me to drive off and never look back, remember. Me, your son. Never could really look at me though could ya… and when you did…” suddenly his chin was wobbling, and he gulped, fighting to school himself, stop the crying. “I want to hate you, I want to feel that anger — I can do with Andy, anyone else, why not you.

He fell silent, it all rushing about in his head. It hurt, he wondered if it would ever stop hurting. If every thought and memory of his mum would also collide with the pain and anger about her death. If he could ever just remember her smile without remembering how it was ripped away from him and the rest of his world with it? He wiped at his nose and turned just enough to see someone walking toward the grave — soon enough he could tell it was Diane. Perfect. He clenched his jaw.

“Thought you were Andy for a minute, he said he’d be stopping by.”

His first thought was she needed glasses, his second from the look in her eyes was that she knew. “You heard?”

“About the scrap? Wish I hadn’t, I was awake half the night thinking about what he’d think about this.”

“Probably take Andy’s side as always.”

“He’d be devastated. Same as I am, same as Victoria.”

“You weren’t that bothered when you gave him my dad’s ring.” He couldn’t stop it, the hurt, the lack of consideration. She didn’t care about him in this, like everyone else it was always Andy who won with her.

“I thought you got over all this childishness, you’re only hurting yourself.” Her hand touched his face. All motherly concern, only it wasn’t, not really and he ducked away from it. “Please leave Andy in peace to get married?”

“He threw the first punch,” Robert muttered and walked away, shaking his head hating Diane. She wasn’t his mum, he’d never let her be but what did they expect. Sarah had been his, she’d taken his side, she loved him like no one else — she’d never have looked at him like his dad did after…

He was tired. He’d give Andy his wedding, he didn’t care, it wasn’t the wedding that bothered him. It was Andy getting a happily ever after he’d taken away everything from him.

~~~

Childishness

It was sticking in his head, despite it all but it wasn’t right, it wasn’t the right word. It wasn’t at all what he was feeling. It wasn’t childish to miss his mum, it wasn’t petty to be angry about how she died and who caused it… No one ever cared about that. It was an accident, no one meant for it to happen. He’d lost so much, and it never mattered to anyone. Andy, Andy got protected, Dad lied for him, did everything he could to protect him. Not him, Dad never did one thing to protect him, tossed him away like garbage…

Thought you were though didn’t he?

He sighed, grateful Chrissie, Lawrence, and Lachlan were still out, doing something he couldn’t remember what, Chrissie had texted him. He hadn’t cared, was grateful he’d have time to himself. He went to Lawrence brandy stash and poured himself a glassful. If walking and fresh air hadn’t cleared his head maybe he could numb himself up. It was Christmas, no one would blink at him drinking the day away.

His phone rang and sighed, realizing he couldn’t ignore Chrissie on a holiday. He pulled up and suddenly he was smiling. The letter A flashed on the screen. It was Aaron. He felt dizzy for a second, the whiplash of emotions and pushed away the thought of chastising himself for liking this. It’d be good to have something good happen today.

A: Outside.

Seconds later he was in Aaron’s car, thankful for that since it’s started pissing rain. “How I’m I supposed to explain this?” he asked, Aaron, didn’t know no one else was at the house.

“Make up any excuse you like.”

“It’s Christmas day…” He took a breath. “I suppose Adam’s told you about my investment?” He couldn’t help the feeling of pride, it’d worked, he’d gotten Aaron’s attention.

“Yeah he has, and we don’t want it, so I need you to tell him you’re not interested anymore.”

Disappointment fluttered through him but it was to be expected, yet anger rushed at him. “What this because I didn’t like your little gay bar?”

“No, it’s because you’re making your little sister’s life a misery. She’s told me about the fight, you’re pathetic.”

Victoria. Something cut into his throat at that, and he tried to shove it away. She was against him to… but why was Aaron doing this, what did he care, was he all wrapped up in Andy and today suddenly. “Why do you care?”

“Vic’s a mate I care about her.”

“And I don’t?”

“You don’t look like it.”

“I have my reasons alright.”

“Yeah ten years ago, maybe, now you just look like some mad control freak.”

“I’m sorry but what has Vic actually said?” Ten years? What’d happened wasn’t something he could just get over, time didn’t matter. It wasn’t that easy and what did Aaron know about it? Or his sister? But she’s your sister, she’s always been the only one trying to be in your corner… maybe you pushed her far?

“It doesn’t matter, I just don’t need to be around someone who treats people like that?”

“Listen, me and Andy…” he tried to spit out, needing to explain, fit felt urgent for Aaron to know, to get it, to understand why he hated Andy, why he couldn’t let it go… he almost felt panicked about it and then terrified because why did he want to share so much of his pain with Aaron?
“Listen to me, Robert! You can’t make me take your money. I’m done with ya now get out.”

No. He wanted to shout no. It wasn’t about the money, it was never about the money. None of this was to hurt Vic, either, it was about Andy and his dad, they would always cut him into ribbons, make him knot himself all up, it was like he couldn’t help it. He wanted to argue with Aaron, fight him and scream. Why did he need him to understand?

But instead, he got out of the car and stood in the rain as Aaron drove off.

~~~

He was staring at a photo of Victoria. It was old and crumpled, and he’d had it in his wallet when he’d driven out of Emmerdale, his father's words echoing in his head. They’d never stopped. He’d stared at it a lot over the years, his little sister, the one thing he missed. Or he told himself that, anyway, but he had missed her most. He even called her at first, but it got too hard, hearing her asking him to come home, so he stopped. Because he wasn’t allowed back, he wasn’t meant to come back. His own father never could look him in the eye and thought he wasn’t worth fighting for. So he cut them out, he cut them all out and then his father died, and he trickled in a few calls here and there to Victoria and Diane. Never Andy.

He wondered how it was Lawrence White of all people who’d brought him home. How his soon to be father-in-law dragged him back to this place with all its pain and all the bad memories that were louder than the good. No one remembered him well, his legacy was that of a bastard, a jerk, someone who only cared about himself. Sometimes he wondered what they expected. When no one else considered you why shouldn’t put yourself first? If you were all you had? All he’d had at nineteen was a picture of his sister and money he’d thought would last a few months turned out only lasted a few weeks.

He stared at Vic's picture. He didn’t want to hurt her. Misery Aaron’s voice echoed in his head and his judgment that he didn’t care about her from where he was standing. And it hit him in the gut, a hard punch, breath caught in his throat. Because he saw it, he saw how him letting his hate for Andy override everything. Even the fact that really all the hatred he felt for Andy was tied up in the fact he’d loved him, thought of him as his brother, blood be damned — it had never mattered with Mum. It still didn’t matter with Mum.

Mum. Sometimes Victoria looked just like her, an expression or the way she’d move her hands. Sometimes being with Victoria was like having a little tiny piece of Sarah back and he hated it. It hurt too much and maybe he'd kept his sister too far away because of it. And now he’d hurt her, enough she was telling Aaron things about his family, about them and he’d come here to fight her corner? Who does that anyway? Show up to defend someone who wasn’t family like that? A mate, yeah, but that was above and behind, what kind of good person was Aaron Livesy? Robert was sure he’d met no one like him before, there was no one like him. He seemed too good to be real, to have that kindness in him?

That reminded him of Mum too.

He’d meant to go to her grave earlier. Before or after his dads but he hadn’t been able too. And he knew why deep down inside because she’d be disappointed in him, she’d have that look in her eye she got when she thought he was selfish. It was always loving though, she was always there pushing him toward the right way.

He wiped his nose and nodded to himself. He knew what he had to do, and a part of him didn’t like it but… He didn’t want to be so bitter, maybe he wanted to flip the coin and not hate Andy. He was home now, he’d lost so much time with them all. Andy, Diane, Victoria. He’d never have the chance with his dad but them, maybe he could do it… It felt terrifying. But he’d try. He stood up and called out to Chrissie he had to go see Andy before the wedding and was gone before he heard her answer.

Chapter Text

He turned his back on Katie and Andy. Her threat sounded empty on his ears. She was never the problem, maybe she never was — he hadn’t been lying when he told her it was about his dad. It would always be about Jack. But he was done thinking about it now, he just wanted to clear his head now. Forget Andy, forget Jack. Forget Katie. He pushed through the door, expecting to leave the Woolpack behind to do just that but Aaron was sitting on the stairs and he froze. Earlier their moment had been ruined by Katie, he hadn’t thought Aaron would wait for him, he thought he’d listen in and decide he wasn’t worth a second shot.

Their eyes met, and the fell into a mutual stare. Robert dipped his eyes down, taking Aaron in. The blue suit he was wearing fit him well, the color making those brilliant eyes of his even bluer. He licked his lips and Aaron mirrored him and watched those eyes dip and take him in.

“Suppose you heard all that?”

“Enough.”

Robert sighed. “I shouldn’t have done that with the rings.”

“No.”

“I just lash out and…”

“I get it,” Aaron said.

“You do?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“So, uh…” He looked at the door, the one Katie barged out of earlier and nearly caught them, putting his heart in his throat. “Moment gone?” he raised an eyebrow.

Aaron shrugged, eyes rolling a bit and stood up. He turned but not before cocking his head and walking upstairs. Robert followed, there was no thought to it, none at all, the past week or more been hell, he felt spun in eight different turns. He wanted to cave into something that could burn it all from his brain, and he felt like Aaron was the only one who could manage it…his heart started hammering.

He’s nothing — remember he is fun. Chrissie’s your future.

But the thought left his head the moment he stepped into Aaron’s bedroom. His tie was grabbed, and he was roughly yanked forward, he grinned and found his mouth against Aaron’s. He moaned into it, hands grabbing at the back of his head, thumb on his jaw, dragging against his stubble. Robert licked his way into that mouth and laughed when they tripped over something on Aaron’s floor.

“Shut up,” Aaron laughed as he yanked at his tie again, undoing it quickly and going for Robert’s buttons.

“Wait, I don’t get the four-star cleanup treatment?”

“You’re not that special.”

“Hmm…” Robert leaned forward and started kissing at his neck, breathing in cheap aftershave and soap and wondering how that was the best thing he smelled in a long while.

Aaron hummed in response, his hands pulled on Robert’s shirt to bring him closer than away again to yank on his shirt buttons, to yank down his jacket. Robert pulled away enough to shake off the jacket, and he got a glimpse of Aaron standing there in the suit, and suddenly he was pushing him back and raking his eyes over him again.

“What?” Aaron blinked at him confused.

“You should wear a tie more often.” Robert nodded and bit his lip and put his hand on the tie, smoothing it down against Aaron’s chest. “You clean up well…” He’s beautiful…no no no.

“Shut up.”

Robert finished off the undoing of his own shirt, stripping himself from the waist down. Immediately hands were against his waist, colder than he expected and he shivered, then Robert sighed at the scrape of beard against his neck contrasted by the softness of Aaron’s lips. “Aaron…”

“What do you want, Robert?” Aaron’s voice was gravel in his ear.

“You, you…want to be inside you.”

“Shit…yes,” Aaron moaned, and his hands dipped into Robert’s trousers, grabbing at his ass, Aaron grinding himself into him.

“Fuck…” Robert crashed their mouths together again, hands working to strip Aaron of the suit — it’d be a shame, but it had to be done — he yanked the tie, mouth crashing against the skin of his neck, eliciting a moan and so he sucked the skin there again hoping to hear it again.

“Robert…”

“Yeah…going fuck you so hard, Aaron,” Robert stepped back, tie sliding around and off Aaron’s neck, he’d lost his jacket at some point so all that was left was his shirt, but when Robert started on the buttons Aaron went still and Robert halted with him. “Aaron?”

Aaron took in a harsh breathe, then another, he looked almost panicked, and Robert felt the sick feeling of worry crash against him. Then Aaron seemed to shake himself out of it, and he started unbuttoning his shirt but his hands were visibly shaking, and Robert knew. He knew.

“No,” he said and stepped forward and grabbed Aaron’s hands. “You don’t want to.”

Aaron shook his head and went to kiss him, Robert let him, but he kept it slow, chaste and shook his head. Guilt was pounding in his head, harder than he ever felt it before. Worse than at the wedding when he remembered what he done with the rings, and he’d felt it then, knowing it would ruin the bit of progress he’d attempted to make with Andy. This was different, louder, harder, harsher because he’d been wrong, so wrong in that bar… the things he said about the scars he knew were littered across Aaron’s skin. There was a pain Aaron been through, and he knew nothing about it, yet he used it as a weapon.

He felt sick.

“Keep your shirt on,” he said as their mouths parted.

Aaron’s expression shifted into something Robert couldn’t read. He wanted to, he wanted to know this man and his heart started to hammer again in a way that wasn’t lust. “Robert?”

“Here…” he bent down seeing where he dropped the tie and pulled it around Aaron’s collar again and grinned as it fell loose around his neck. “You look fit like this anyway.”

Aaron rolled his eyes at him but he laughed, and their eyes met again. Robert's hand was on his face in that second, behind his neck, thumb stroking his stubble and he shook his head and felt an apology on his lips but it never left his mouth. Aaron swallowed it with a soft kiss, which led to another and another, then they were on the bed, and Robert found his mouth against Aaron’s hips, after yanking down his trousers and boxers.

He wrapped his mouth around the head of Aaron’s cock, moaned as he slid further down him, the taste of him was perfect, he looked up at him through his lashes and knew beautiful was really the only word that worked for this man — this man who was too far under his skin. No one had to know though, no one would ever know, this was his secret, Aaron was his secret…

It was the best secret he had on the pile he’d made, maybe, it was one he could carry.

He felt something hit his head, making him paused and reluctantly free his mouth and saw Aaron smirking at him before he noticed a condom and lube by Aaron’s hip on the bed. He rolled his eyes and went back to where he left off, and Aaron cried out his name, as his tongue went flat on the underside of his erection. Hands were in his hair, sharp and yanking, it just spurred him on and he didn’t stop until he tasted all Aaron could give him, and the man was panting, eyes closed and making Robert struggle to breathe as he stared at him.

Aaron’s eyes opened, barely, he stared at Robert and leaned up. He lunged over him, pushing him further into the bed and kissed him. Aaron sighed, and his hands were on his back, one in his hair and the other wrapped around his dick and Robert hissed into his mouth.

“Aaron…” he breathed harshly against his lips.

Aaron tightened his grip and picked up the pace.

“Shit, shit… you want me to fuck you?”

“Hard, Robert, fuck me hard…” Aaron demanded his hand sliding away, and Robert whimpered, but he was back on his haunches and opened the bottle of lube. Then his finger was inside him, Aaron spread wide, and Robert wondered how he was breathing, his cock hurt but he wouldn’t rush it, he couldn’t rush it — he was stuck between impatience and wanting to savor. Aaron was whimpering and fucking himself on Robert’s hand.

“Robert, do it, do it…come on.”

“Yeah, yeah…” he found the condom, felt like his hand was shaking, he was far too impatient, and it felt like it took too long to roll it on, grab more lube, but then he was pushing inside of Aaron.

The first time he did this he thought he might die from how good it felt, he hadn’t expected it to feel better this time, to make his heart stutter. Aaron’s eyes were wide and staring right at him, harshly breathing, hands gripping Robert’s shoulders.

“Robert.”

“Aaron.”

They spoke unison as Robert bottomed out, breathe knocked out of them and Robert felt his forehead land against Aarons and he realized this was the definition of intimacy and his head spun. Aaron was pushing fingers through his hair, down to the nape of his neck and his expression looked as bewildered as Robert felt. Robert closed his eyes and found himself dropping down, kissing Aaron and moaning as his tongue flicked into his mouth. It was lazy and deep kissed until Aaron shifted hips and then rolled them. Robert felt relief because it was feeling too much and now he could move, he could pound and hold Aaron in his arms and not think. Not think at all.

~~~

Robert woke slowly, a heavy weight pinning him down into a mattress that wasn’t soft enough to be his own. He blinked, realized his hand was against the back of Aaron’s head, thumb stroking through his hair. He sighed out, he was aching in all the right places, and the memory of caught breathe and blue eyes staring right into his own flew back to him. Aaron felt amazing and made him feel amazing. He felt a grin tug at his mouth and let his head fall into the pillow behind him.

But then he heard Chas Dingle’s laugh on the other side of the door. The panic was instantaneous, and he rolled out of the bed, shoving Aaron — hard enough to wake him he hoped and started grabbing at all his clothes as the knock came at the door.

“Aaron?”

He looked around and ended up running toward the door to hide on the side so the door itself would hide him if Chas opened it. He looked at the bed and saw Aaron wiping his eyes and giving him a worried look.

“Aaron?” Chas called again, and the door opened.

Aaron blinked at her warily. “What?”

“You’re sleeping, already?”

“What does it look like.”

“You okay?”

“Got a bit of a headache.”

“Oh, love why didn’t you say, I’ll get you some…”

“Mum, I’m fine. Really, just want to sleep.”

“Okay, love you.”

“Love you,” Aaron echoed impatiently.

Robert let out the breath he was holding as the door closed.

Aaron burst out laughing.

“It’s not funny.”

“Your face says otherwise,” Aaron laughed in a way it was a near giggle.

Robert rolled his eyes and started hopping into his boxers.

“You’ve gotta go, don’t you?”

Robert sighed and shocked himself with how disappointed it sounded. “It’s Christmas… Chrissie probably thinks I went off to sulk but…”

“Yeah…” Aaron looked away from him.

“But…” Robert made his way back over to the bed and sat at the edge of it. “This doesn’t have to be the end of this, you know.”

Aaron swallowed, but his eyes were back on him.

“You’d be okay with that?” Robert asked, and he needed him to say yes, he wasn’t finished with this, with Aaron.

“Yeah?” Aaron breathed out then with more conviction. “Yeah.”

Robert kissed him, pulling back when they’d both run out of breath and stroked his cheek. “See you soon.”

Aaron nodded.

Robert stood up, found himself walking backward toward the door, one thing rushing through his mind.

Aaron’s something.

Chapter Text

He’s meant to be listening to Lachlan. Or well, that’s what is expected of him as the future step-father, he supposes, and it’s a role he’s decided to play. It’s all part of the plan for his perfect future with Chrissie. They’ll be a family, they’ll have the house and the business and the family. It’s all set in stone and Lachlan and Chrissie are at odds with each other, and he has a role to play. Put Chrissie first, as she is his future wife but be there for Lachlan. Which was harder than it sounds on paper. Mostly because he just doesn’t care, not really, Lachlan could get a whole sleeve of tattoos for all he cares.

But then there is Aaron.

Robert’s entire being seemed to focus in on him the moment he stepped through the door of the café. He was just drawn right to him, and he couldn’t miss the sloped line of his shoulders or the tension in his jaw. “You all right?” it rolled right off of Robert’s tongue as he passed him and he knew it shouldn’t have, but there was no stopping it.

Aaron ignored him, which he should’ve felt relieved about but he the exact opposite happened. He managed to keep track of Lachlan, for a moment or two longer but his focus on was Aaron. He couldn’t stop checking on him, and he knew he shouldn’t be looking. They were supposed to keep a distance, only speak about the business — which he could use as an excuse he remembered now. Vic mentioned they were going to go into scrap, and he really did need to talk with Aaron about it. But it’d be an excuse, and he knew it.

Robert tensed. No, he needed to keep Aaron out of his mind. It didn’t matter if he was upset. Of course, he was upset. Cain was still in the hospital, wasn’t he? Aneurysms were no joke — Chrissie’s aunt nearly died a year back. She was fine now so Cain would be too. He sounded like he cared about Cain, what a laugh. It wasn’t Cain he cared about. He shouldn’t care that much about Aaron, either, though. You do.

No, he needed to stop this now. They were nothing. So, he smiled when Brenda appeared — until she made a crack about Alicia. He glowered at her but nodded inwardly to himself. This was a reminder of why it was important to keep clear boundaries in mind with Aaron. They were an affair, Robert wasn’t here to hold his hand, it wasn’t his job. So what if Cain was in the hospital. He owed Aaron nothing at all. Not like he owed Chrissie, his future wife. He didn’t need to pretend to care about Cain like he pretended to care about Lachlan.

He ordered an Americano and turned around. Aaron looked like he was leaving and that was good. But Robert noticed the sluggishness in his step and how he was chewing his lower lip in worry. “Hey, how’s Cain?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m free for lunch if you want a distraction,” he asked before he thought it through. It wasn’t even true, he wasn’t free for lunch because he was meant to meet Victoria. But he’d met Aaron’s eyes, and they were a duller shade of blue than usual. Washed away and Robert felt like he could see anxiety and worry inside of them. It was waving off of Aaron, he was worried, and something inside of Robert just itched to fix it.

“My uncle’s on death’s door, maybe not today yeah?” Aaron rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

He winced at the dismissal and told himself to be angry. But he couldn’t be, not when he’d seen the pain Aaron in was in. Not when he saw the pain Aaron’s shoulders as he walked away. It was so loud, he wondered if everyone else felt it waving off of Aaron like he had? Or was it just him? Because it felt like Aaron was all he saw sometimes? It was aggravating in a lot of ways, he wasn’t meant to be important. Fun. He was meant to be fun, and Robert just offered him just that and been turned down.

He’s scared Robert knew it. He felt that. It just was, he realized, and he couldn't get the pain he saw in Aaron out of his mind. But he had to, he had to stop this — he had offered his help and been turned down. It was enough. “Not your business,” he muttered to himself.

“One Americano,” Brenda’s voice cut through the air.

He turned around, paid for it and took off and told himself to focus on work.

He failed.

He kept opening his phone and pulling up Aaron’s number but couldn’t bring himself to send a text. He didn’t know what to send anyway, and he felt like anything he did say would just annoy Aaron. Robert couldn’t get the pain he’d seen out of his head. There was something intense in how Aaron felt things, he’d seen it in his eyes when they were together — it’d taken his breath away a time or two. But that was lust, wasn’t it? This was pain, but Aaron seemed to feel it just viscerally.

Was that why he cut? Robert froze the second the thought formed. He’d been typing up a report, and his fingers just froze on the keyboard. It was there now, in his head. That this was why his skin was all marred up? That he felt too hard and he just…

Robert scraped his hand over his face and stood up to get a drink. He hurried to the kitchen like he thought cold water might be able to get the thought out of his head. He tried not to think about the scars. He’d already put his foot into it once with Aaron about them. He knew he understood nothing about it, he couldn’t imagine doing something like that to himself. But he didn’t feel things like Aaron. He thought about the cloud that been over Aaron in the cafe and felt an urge to see him.

It wouldn’t leave. It buzzed under his skin. He made attempts at ignoring it, he worked on the report a few more minutes. It was busy work anyway, he didn’t need to think to get it done. He looked at his agenda, he had some phone calls he should really make before taking a lunch break. But he had promised Victoria he’d see her….

It’d be no big deal to head over to the Woolpack early and hope he could at least look at Aaron? Check on him? Robert stood up, caving into it, not even trying to fight it because he knew, it was futile. He needed to do this.

~~~

He never felt more relieved at anything when Alicia said Vic was busy. Good. He wasn’t here to see her. He wanted to check on the sullen guy in the corner, staring at the nearly empty pint. Robert could feel the bad emotions, the worry, and anxiety waving off of Aaron. It was worse than it’d been in the café, he thought. Aaron worked himself up into a dark headspace of some kind, and his worry about why Aaron cut himself rose up and made his stomach twist. This wasn’t good, and he had to try to do something. He just did, he wasn’t going to question it — it’d be a waste of time. He couldn’t fight the want of it anymore. But as he moved closer to Aaron, he realized he didn’t know what to do, he didn't have a clue.

“Same again?” he offered Aaron, after ordering his own pint.

“No.”

“I need to talk to ya, Vic told me about the new business plan,” he said, using his only excuse.

“Some other time,” Aaron muttered and hurried away.

Aaron wanted to left to wallow in it, he thought, but it wasn’t going to work. He followed him and thought Aaron looked buried by everything he was feeling. Robert watched him slump down in a chair by the kitchen table and realized he had no plan. He was running on impulse and instinct. So he went right for the kettle. He filled it up and put it on the stove. A brew. It was all he could think to do now, and he started to wonder what he was doing? Why was he here?

“Just do one?”

It was an out, but he couldn’t take it. Aaron didn’t sound angry, he seemed defeated. Caught up in whatever worst-case scenarios were in his head. Robert could almost hear them, he thought. He dug in, he’d decided to do this, to try to help Aaron. He couldn’t give up without giving it his best try. “Don’t be like that. Come on? Is there any news about him? Cain?”

“What’s it do you?” Aaron snorted.

“I know what is it like to lose someone you love,” he said, feeling suddenly out of his depth. What was he doing? He didn’t have a clue what to do here? He wasn’t the type who held people’s hands? What was he doing?

“So now you think he’s going to die.”

Aaron proved his point, he was rubbish at this. But he looked at him, and he looked crowded up inside of himself, the worry was louder now. Robert made him speak it, and he realized it wasn’t helping him at all, it was making Aaron feel worse.

“Chrissie’s aunt an aneurysm,” he said, grasping at straws. He knew a story with a good ending. Maybe, maybe he could pull some of that weight off of Aaron’s shoulders. “They stuck a tube up her vein in her groin, and she was right as rain.”
Aaron looked at him as if he was daft, but he was looking at him now. Robert could work with that, and he poured the brew and carried it to the table. “Seriously, that’s what they do. It’s easy for us bloke’s cause uh brain’s are in our pants less far to travel.”

The joke doesn’t land, but the facts seem too. Aaron’s leaning in, listening, and Robert can hear his brain working as he takes it in. “She’s definitely alright?”

“Had her 65th birthday last year. She went abseiling.” Robert smiled a bit, it felt good to see Aaron almost looking relieved and like he wants to believe him. “Stop thinking the worst about it.”

“Yeah, I know, I just can’t…” he shook his head, and Robert saw the weight slamming back down like Aaron’s powerless to stop it.

“Why?” Robert asked, and he meant it, he wanted to know why… needed to know why. He was overwhelmed himself and wondering if there even was a way to help Aaron?

“If he… it’d break Mom’s…”

He’s terrified It slammed into Robert, the hard truth of it. Aaron’s fear of Cain dying and it wasn’t about Chas — not entirely -- it was about Aaron and what he could or couldn’t take. It felt like too much, and suddenly the loss of his mum is crushing Robert, and he’s running on impulse.

Much like Aaron’s who is on the move again, trying to run from all the pain inside of him but Robert moves. He grabbed him and just pulled him into a hug because it felt right, it felt like the only thing to do. Robert wrapped himself around Aaron because there was no words for sharing that pain and no way to really protect him from it.

So he was there.

Aaron went stiff at first, but Robert just tightened his hold and hoped he understood. Then Aaron slumped into him a bit, his own arms coming up as he finally fell into the hug. Robert breathed out a bit in relief and felt Aaron echo him and then he didn’t dare let go.

Chapter Text

Robert wrapped his arms around Aaron as tight as he dared. He was afraid to put too much of his weight into it after Aaron might wriggle away and not allow him to try to take away some of the weight on his shoulders. Aaron was carrying too much, he needn’t feel it all so hard, Robert thought. He wasn’t making it easy on himself — something he didn’t understand. But he wanted to help, it was odd, and he wasn’t sure what to do with that energy. So clung to Aaron, as tightly as he dared, and held his breath.

Hands pressed into his shoulders, Aaron’s arms tightened around him. It was slow, like Aaron fell into him by inches and then he felt a breath against his shoulder and Aaron sagged in. Something loosened in Robert, but he didn’t dare let go, not yet, maybe he wouldn’t…

Aaron’s face turned, and Robert felt his scruff against his neck. His nose against his skin, and he bit his lip against the sensation. This wasn’t meant to be that he thought, but then he felt Aaron’s press a kiss against his skin and arms were gripping his shoulders, holding on but also pushing at him and he stepped back a half step. Moved so they could look at each other, he was confused, he wasn’t sure what was happening. And he was given little time to think as Aaron inched forward, head tilted up and kissed him.

He groaned, falling right into it. There was something about how Aaron’s mouth fit against his. Aaron had his hands against his chest now, tugging at his blazer pulling him forward. His arms were still wrapped around him, he was caught in the hug as he fell deeper into the kiss. Something nagged at him as they kissed, as he felt Aaron slip his tongue between his lips and he was pulling away — only an inch and found himself staring into wild blue eyes. Aaron was all emotion, a myriad of them, the worry was there but so was something else…

“Aaron?” Robert shook his head though he wasn’t saying no, he was just confused.

“Right…too public,” Aaron muttered and grabbed Robert by his wrist. “Upstairs then.”

“Wait…” Robert blinked at him.

Aaron’s body seemed to sag into itself. “You don’t want me?”

“Of course I want you,” Robert snapped. “I just…”

“Upstairs then,” Aaron repeated and gripped Robert’s wrist hard and yanked. He was powerless to stop it, he followed him up the stairs and into his room. The buzz of the pub underneath them a constant low-level hum in the room. Robert wondered how Aaron ever found peace in here? Though looking at Aaron now, he wondered if ever found peace at all. It broke a part of his heart he wasn’t even aware he owned.

“Aaron…” Robert pressed his hands against Aaron’s chest as Aaron lunged toward him. “Slow down?”

“You offered a distraction, didn’t ya?”

“You didn’t want it.”

“Do now,” Aaron said, and he yanked down Robert’s blazer.

He let him, helped the fabric over his wrists but then ran a hand down his face. “Aaron…”

Aaron sighed and stilled. He was quiet for the first time all day, Robert thought, and something was softer in his eyes. The worry was evident still, but it wasn’t as loud. Aaron bit his lip, averted his eyes. “You helped…” he whispered.

“Oh…” Robert smiled in a way that felt against his will.

“I just… I need this, Robert, maybe I’ll stop wanting to crawl out of me own skin.”

“Okay, okay,” Robert nodded, and his hands were on Aaron’s face, pulling him forward, tilting him up and he kissed him. It felt just like the first time, as he opened his mouth to Aaron’s and tasted him. Beer and salt from chips, and Aaron, it was all Aaron.

And it was all Aaron. His hands seemed to be everywhere, his mouth against Robert’s than his neck and then his chest. His shirt was half off and on, Robert tried to catch his breath but then his ass was hitting Aaron’s bed, but hands were ripping off his trousers and boxers. He couldn’t catch his breath, he was fairly sure he didn’t care. Not when Aaron’s mouth was around his cock, hands pressed against his hips and he fell flat on his back on the bed.

“Up…” Aaron mumbled.

“Yeah,” Robert wiggled himself further up the bed, pulled off his shirt all way and groaned he watched Aaron crawl between his legs and took him in his mouth again….

“Shit…” Robert’ hands grabbed onto Aaron’s hair. It was bloody amazing. HIs eyes rolled back and closed. No one did this like him, no one used his mouth like this on him before. His hips bucked up, and Aaron hummed into it, and Robert tightened his hold of Aaron’s hair, unsure if he was begging him to slow down or never stop.

Either way, he was sure he’d always think these moments ended too soon.

Aaron slowed down his mad rush. He inhaled somehow with his mouth full of Robert and started a slower rhythm, one hand pressed into Robert’ hipbone, the other wrapped around the base of him. Robert loosened his grip on Aaron’s hair, maybe this was what he asked for he thought as his other hand twisted in Aaron’s bedsheets.

When Aaron pulled off him, Robert’ hips bucked up, cock following that perfect mouth and Aaron was up on his knees, giving him a cocky smile as he wiped at his chin. “Lube,” he muttered.

Robert reached over to where he knew Aaron kept it, grabbed it and a condom. He tossed them onto the bed and Aaron moved away from him. He nearly lurched up to grab him and keep him closer. But he saw Aaron’s hands go to his belt and his eyes went dark as he watched him undress from the waist down.

Beautiful He couldn’t shove it away anymore when it came to Aaron it was all he saw. Beauty and voices tried to argue with it, but they couldn’t win and now wasn’t the time to listen. Now he was giving in to it all, all the want, all the attraction, maybe someday he’d get enough. Lies.

They both moaned as Aaron climbed over him, their cocks brushing together, Aaron stealing a kiss. Robert’s hands grabbed his face, he pressed his tongue deep into Aaron’s mouth, he bucked his up and wrapped his legs around him. It was all about the grind, and Aaron was moving into it, fighting as hard as Robert to create friction.

Robert found Aaron’s neck, started peppering it with kisses. Aaron curved into him and moaned. Robert licked at that spot, tasting the salt of him and knew it was addicting. He shoved his hands up the back of the shirt Aaron hadn’t taken off, flattened hand against his spine and started to suck. Aaron sighed into, and Robert heard a voice nagging at him about not leaving marks, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

He wanted to.

“Rob…” Aaron sighed.

He flipped them on a whim, careful to keep hold of Aaron, wrapped him around him but now he was hovering over him and staring into those damn blue eyes. They were sparking, they were dark and no longer overwhelmed with worry. He grinned down and found himself pressing his lips to Aaron’s forehead. Which made Aaron furrow his brow and laugh.

“What?” Robert whispered as he ground them together again.

“Fuck…” Aaron bucked up his hips.

Robert bent down, latching mouth onto Aaron’s neck again, let his hands skim underneath the shirt, hands ignoring the crisscross of scarring and diving right for Aaron’s nipples. He whispered into his ear. “Want to fuck, is that what you want?”

“Yes,’ Aaron’s voice was dark and husky.

Robert moved down his neck, he latched his mouth over a nipple, through the fabric, a hand bunched up in Aaron’s hair as the other searched out for the lube. Aaron’s hand was in his hair, on his back and then he was pushing at Robert. Robert lifted up his head, their eyes met, and Robert lunged forward to kiss him. There was no stopping it. Aaron breathed his name into his mouth, but then he was flipping through the air, and Aaron was straddling him, a hand flat against his chest and lusty glare.

“Aaron…” he breathed.

And Aaron was folding the condom over Robert’s cock. He had to grab at the base of it, frightened it all be over too soon. He was wet and aching, he couldn’t take his eyes off of Aaron, who grabbed the lube and started stroking Robert as he slicked him up. Robert hissed and his eyes closed.

Until he felt Aaron sinking down onto him. His eyes popped open, and he sat up slightly, hands lurched forward and found his arm’s stretched, his hands on Aaron’s hips and he stared. Watched Aaron slide the rest of the way down, swallowing up Robert’s cock and then he was rising up.

“Fuck…” Robert whispered.

“Yes…” Aaron whimpered. “So good, Rob, you feel so good.”

“Me…” Robert breathed. “You, fuck Aaron.”

Their eyes locked, Aaron riding him, faster and faster. Over time Robert, adjusting and rolling his hips, starting to buck up. “Fuck, yes, Rob, there, there…”

It’s all sweat and breath, then they’re groaning in near unison, Aaron’s chest pressed against Robert’s, his shirt scratchy against his chest. Robert’s shoved his hand up the back, pushing under the fabric to find skin. His mouth against Aaron’s neck. Aaron lifting off but crashing back down, wrapping around Robert and burying his face in his neck and whispering thank you into his skin. And all Robert can think is he has it backward.

Chapter Text

Don’t make me think I’ve fallen for a quitter.

The door was loud behind him as it closed. Sounded almost like he slammed it. Had he? He rubbed his palms over his face the words he just said to Aaron echoing in his head.

He meant them.

He thought.

No?

He shook himself and hurried toward the closest bathroom, that door to sounding loud as he closed it. He felt too big for his body, maybe, and he looked at himself in the mirror. And he was smirking, he felt it and saw it, he was half smiling. Like he had to Aaron as he whispered good meeting. Like confessions of affection were something he did every late morning when the man he was having an affair with was in crisis.

About them. Not the business. Not the ruse they were using to be allowed to speak. It wasn’t supposed to be this complicated, Robert thought and turned on the cold water. He filled his hands with it and splashed his face and tried to rid himself of the smirk, the smile, the rush of his blood in his ears but he kept airing Aaron stammering about not going into business with people you….

“No.” He said to himself in the mirror. Aaron hadn’t said it, he hadn’t said it. Neither of them said it. It wasn’t that. Maybe it was something, but it wasn’t that. Robert’s heart wouldn’t stop wildly beating in his chest, and he bent over the sink and splashed more cold water on face and nodded to himself. “It’s pleasure, a fling, Aaron’s… important…NOT….not important.”

Robert ignored his stammering and the hitch in his voice and the mismatch of words.

~~~

Robert looked at the client name on the contracts Lawrence just dropped on his desk along with the orders to wine and dine the client, get the contracts signed and then come home the next morning. They were an important client, they made Lawrence quite a lot of money, and the edict was always to wine and dine the high profile ones when possible. Only Robert knew the man, he disliked wasting his time, he didn’t drink — he was sober and preferred to just sign the contracts and be done with it. Robert been handling him for years now and using him as a cover for an escape from Chrissie for nearly as long.

He tipped back in his chair and tried to talk to himself out of what he was thinking. He shouldn’t do it. It was best if he and Aaron remained using stolen hours to meet at the barn and the side of the road. It was less messy that way, it was easier to, and it took less planning. And there were less ways to trip up — Katie was still watching him like a hawk. Her eyes following his every move with suspicion dripping from every smirk she aimed his way.

He shouldn’t do it.

His phone trilled and a text popped up.

A: portacabin is being delivered today

He stood up and shoved his phone into his back pocket, grabbed his keys and told himself he was going to go on a drive to clear his head. He needed to talk himself out of this. Bringing Aaron on an overnight with him would be too much, it would make this all too real.

It wasn’t something he could, or should, do.

He wasn’t going to do it.

But thirty minutes later, gravel was crunching under his Audi’s tires, and he was pulling to stop in front of Aaron. He looked sinful in a purple hoodie, and Robert wondered how he made such pedestrian clothing work for him. He swallowed against his attraction and tried to fight letting his eyes travel up and down the length of him.

“It’s not here yet.”

“Yeah, cause I’ve come to see a portacabin,” he rolled his eyes, and the next sentence just rolled off his tongue “I have an overnight in Leeds, a business thing, thought we could meet up.”

“Not sure I like being called a business,” Aaron grumbled, and Robert couldn’t help but smile at the difficulty. He loved Aaron's crappy attitude. This was okay. It wasn’t going to change anything. Aaron was a grumpy git, no matter where he took him. A hotel or a barn. They’d stay the same, being away and in a bed, it wouldn’t mean more or cause anything to change between them. Robert relaxed and gave in to the instinct to enjoy looking at Aaron because he could stare forever really. No reason to deny himself the treat.

“Well, whilst you think on it, I’ll book us a hotel room,” he said, and he drove away, enjoying the small smile on Aaron’s face. Only an hour or so later, after a text about the portacabin arriving he's back. He walked into it and pretending it’s all about business and not about wanting another look at Aaron. And Paddy and Adam are there which is annoying, but Paddy’s made Aaron smile, and Robert lost his breath and he’s telling him he looks good in front of witnesses…

They both freeze when he does it like they had two seconds prior when Adam mentioned some meeting the following morning. Fear floods him, and he worried they’ve pushed it, they’d been stupid. And he’s covering, easily, lies fall out of his mouth like nothing most days. It’s a gift he’s proud off, but right now he’s never been more grateful.

And he’s leaving, hating that Val and Eric Pollard are out there because he’s afraid too much is written on his face. But he forces a fake smile on his face and hurried into his Audi. Then he took that long drive he meant to take earlier. Until his mind is clear and he’s reminded himself with clarity that he knows where the lines are between his real life and Aaron Livesy.

~~~

He idled near the back of the Woolpack, on a road not many cars used and hoped no one noticing the oddity of his Audi parked there. Aaron came out the backdoor, backpack slung over his shoulder and slipped into the passenger seat.

Robert slammed on the accelerator the second the door was closed, Aaron struggling a bit with the seatbelt as he peeled down the road. He just needed to get Emmerdale in their rearview. Aaron huffed next to him, understanding why and not liking it. Which was a worry, Aaron hated the secrets, it was like he forgot they were an affair and Robert hated every time he had to remind him. But he had to make it clear. He loved Chrissie, she was sophisticated and beautiful and successful. She would be the perfect wife.

“So, you dumping me in the room while you do business?”

“Hardly,” Robert laughed. “You can wait at the bar, it won’t take a but a minute and then we can get something to eat.”

“Eat?”

“Yeah, you know dinner?”

“I don’t have anything to wear, nothing fancy?”

“Good thing then I plan to take you my favorite burger place,” Robert laughed, and he looked Aaron up down. He still looked delicious in that hoodie and fuck it. He slammed to stop, pulling to the side of the road they were on and grabbed Aaron by the collar.

Aaron laughed into the kiss, it was a great sound Robert thought as he deepened it. The two of them not breaking apart until another car passed them on the road, honking at them because Robert had done a piss-poor job of parking. They two of them laughed as they pulled apart and Robert slammed on the accelerator again, only this time cause he was afraid they were running late.

Chapter Text

It was late, and it caught Robert by surprise. He looked around them and realized the other tables were either vacant or about to be vacated. He frowned and bit back the retort he was about to make to the waitress giving him a fake smile as she asked if he wanted their check. He didn’t want the check, he was having a good time and hadn’t realized how long he and Aaron had been sat on the table.

Aaron shifted his seat and cleared his throat, his own eyes darting around the room. He looked as surprised as Robert felt. It made him smile, and he heard himself politely telling the woman that yes they were ready for the check. Her fake smile turned to relief as she turned around to get it.

“Are they closing?” Aaron asked with a small laugh.

“Seems like it,” Robert said as he grabbed at his wallet.

Aaron cleared his throat. “I can…”

“Don’t be daft, I’m treating ya.”

Aaron frowned and bit his lip, but he made no argument and Robert sighed in relief because the last thing he wanted was to have some dumb fight. Everything was going well. They’d been just talking for hours, not really about anything. But it was easy, and they were laughing a lot. There was something just comfortable about being with Aaron, they’d started out talking about cars but somehow ended up talking about what Emmerdale was like when Robert been a kid — the changes in the village and the farms. It was weird, to be remembering his past without wanting to punch a wall. He was telling Aaron the good things the fun memories and telling stories about his mum more than anything. He frowned as he realized that was what had him about the waitresses head off…

He’d been enjoying talking about Sarah.

“You alright?”

“Huh?” Robert said as he looked up from his wallet. “Yeah, just… guess we gotta go back.”

The waitress popped back up, and Robert handed her his credit card. Aaron picked up what was left of his pint and proceeded to drink it down. Robert got distracted by the length of his throat, a bit too hidden by that damn hoodie’s collar. He felt it then, the itch to get Aaron naked — as he would let him — and underneath him. He swallowed and grabbed at the water he’d been ignoring the whole night and took a long gulp of it. He was fuzzy, from the beer he’d been drinking but also their conversation. He pulled out his phone, before deciding against calling a taxi. He felt like he needed to clear his head a bit before he got Aaron back to the hotel. It was close enough for them to walk.

“Let’s walk back.”

Aaron shrugged in response, and a few moments later, they were walking out in the cold air January air. Aaron seemed to tilt his face up to it and shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. Robert swung his arm around his shoulders and tucked him into him, though. He wanted to touch him, that was all, he felt like he needed the air. The length of time they’d gotten lost talking was hitting him again, it wasn’t supposed to be so easy to be with Aaron. This wasn’t supposed to be about food and laughter. It was meant to be sex, yet he wasn’t rushing them toward the hotel. And Aaron let himself be pulled right into him like he liked being tucked into Robert. He felt right there, under Robert’s arm, the weight of him leaning into him as they loped a bit lopsidedly toward the hotel.

It went quiet between them. Robert felt relieved by it, he gulped in the night air and tried to calm down his mind. He was buzzing from the conversation and the craziness that he was talking about his mother so much — he never spoke about Sarah. What was he doing? How had they even landed there? Maybe it'd been Aaron complaining about Chas, and he’d felt that empty ache he hadn’t a mother who cared when he took off for the night. Usually, that emptiness made him lash out, be mean or stupid and yet this time…

“You okay?” Aaron’s voice broke through his thoughts, and he turned toward him. God, he was close, Robert thought, and he inhaled him and smelled some kind of soap aftershave, the grain of Aaron’s stubble and those damn blue eyes that kept threatening to drown him. They were concerned, and Robert wondered how Aaron even knew, knew that maybe his thoughts weren’t okay.

“I’m fine, you?”

Aaron shrugged, but he worried his bottom lip between his teeth. Robert was torn between a groan and a weird sudden worry about Aaron biting down too hard. He nudged him, where their bodies were already together and tightened the arm he had around Aaron’s shoulders. “Are you?” Robert asked again.

“Yeah, yeah…” Aaron let out a breath, and a half-smile appeared on his face, he was looking Robert, something shy in it and it made Robert’s cheeks heat, and he looked away and forward. Rushing their steps now, wanting to get them inside, the want he felt to kiss Aaron starting to feel overwhelming.

~~~

Aaron felt the same way it seemed because the moment they step into the room,, Aaron’s on him. Shoving him roughly against the door, the doorknob hitting his back and making him swear. Aaron’s apologizing but not stopping, he’s got him pushed between the wood and him. His tongue in Robert’s mouth, scrape of his beard on his skin and his hands shoving down at Robert’s suit jacket.

He felt powerless against Aaron’s onslaught, is reminded of their first kiss and the mad rush to the truck and he’s deepening the kiss now, angry at himself for rushing off that first time. Because if he hadn’t he would have had this one more time, and as it stood, he still hadn’t had Aaron enough. He wanted it, he wanted all of him. More and more of this, he hated himself for making them miss out just that once.

He moaned as he felt Aaron’s mouth latch onto his nipple and wondered when he lost his shirt. Not that it mattered, all that did matter was Aaron’s tongue and sighed as he pressed his hands onto Aaron’s shoulders. Against fabric and looked down to see Aaron was still fully clothed, while he had his trousers around his ankles. It wouldn’t do, and he was shoving now, changing the dynamic and pushing them toward the bed. His hands on grabbed Aaron’s belt and was making quick work on getting his bloody jeans off him. They fell onto the bed, Aaron wincing but lifting his hips and Robert grinned as he yanked the jeans off of him.

“That’s better,” he muttered and pushed Aaron under him on the bed, sinking his tongue back into Aaron’s mouth. Aaron moaned around his tongue, and they were kissing, Robert pushed his hands up and under the hoodie, hands seeking out Aaron’s chest — a part of careful, always so careful to ignore and not press into any of the raised and married skin his fingers felt.

“Robert, Robert…” Aaron muttered his name louder and louder, hands against Robert’s bare chest, shoving. Robert whimpered as he broke their mouths apart and ended up leaning on his elbows as he looked down at him.

“Wait?” it was impatient.

“Take it off.”

“I got nothing left to take off,” Robert smirked.

“No, Rob….take it off,” and Aaron was guiding his hands to the bottom of the hoodie.

“Are you…”

Aaron huffed with impatience and started to try to get it off himself. It was enough of an answer, and Robert grabbed the fabric and yanked it up and over as quickly as humanly possible. He wanted to see him, see Aaron, and his eyes were devouring all of his skin the second it was visible. His chest was broad, and his stomach flat and the crisscrossed marks did nothing to mar the fucking beauty of him. Robert moved, to straddle Aaron’s waist and splayed his hands against Aarons’ ribs, pushing up, just enjoying being able to touch.

His eyes flickered to Aaron’s to make sure it was okay and he met a dark blue stare and Aaron’s chin was jutted out and up in a way that told Robert he was worried. Guilt crashed into him again, as he remembered lashing out at him. He bent down and kissed at Aaron’s neck, where he’d found Aaron liked it best and whispered. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

“Shut up,” Aaron’s voice was gravel, and then their mouths were caught against each other again, and Robert found himself kissing his way down Aaron’s neck, to his chest, down his stomach — he didn’t ignore the scars, but he didn’t take his time. A piece of wanted too but he knew the forgiveness he was being granted and wasn’t about to push it.

Later though, when they laid in the middle of the bed face to face. Robert let his hand trail up and down Aaron’s arm, noticing a few scars on his forearms and realizing it was why he was always tugging down his sleeves. He frowned but said nothing, just leaned their foreheads together and ended up kissing Aaron’s nose.

“Jackson.”

“Robert, actually.”

Aaron laughed, but it was distracted. “I mean… his name was Jackson.”

Robert wasn’t comfortable at all with the spike of jealousy that flooded him, and he clenched his jaw against it. Aaron’s hand was on his back, running up and down his spine soothingly.

“He’s dead, now.”

Robert blinked.

“He uh… it’s a long story, it’s just he was in an accident, it was my fault…”

“Aaron?”

“Maybe it wasn’t my fault… but he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t do anything for himself, and he wanted too. I helped him, Rob, he wanted it, and I help him because he couldn’t do it himself…” it was a whisper and Aaron wasn’t looking at him. “And I couldn’t handle it, afterward and the only way I could breath was when I cut myself.”

“Shit.” It wasn’t the right response, Robert was sure of it, but it was all he had at the moment. Though his body seemed better than his brain, he was holding Aaron tighter and thought he wasn’t looking at him Robert was looking at him. He saw the tears and the fear in his eyes that he shouldn’t have said anything. Robert wondered if he was worth the confession. He held him tighter and started to kiss his cheeks. “It’s okay,” he heard himself mumble.

Aaron gave a sad laugh, but then he was burying his face into Robert’s neck and holding on more tightly. And Robert just fell into the instinct to hold him, and caress him. “It’s okay,” he said again, even when he thought it wasn’t at all. Aaron was in pain he couldn’t comprehend and ripped himself to literal shreds. Robert found himself wanting to scream at a dead man, but instead, he kissed Aaron’s face until they both fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Robert jolted awake and saw Aaron pulling on a t-shirt. Their eyes met when Aaron turned back to the bed. Robert felt a lump in his throat and wondered if he should try to say something but Aaron shook his head minutely and Robert found himself shifting, so they were lying face to face. They stared into each other’s eyes, and Aaron gave him a shy smile before he closed his eyes. Robert felt breathless at it the sight of it, he tried to close his eyes but couldn’t quite relax and he found himself staring at Aaron’s face. His straight nose, the scruff of his beard, he counted his eyelashes.

He was doing everything he could to not dwell on Aaron’s confession and just focus on the beauty of the man instead — and try not to think about the flaws raised up on his skin. Robert shuddered, and he felt a spike of fear. Pressure. Confusion. Pain. Anger. Whoever the hell Jackson was, Robert tossed him on the pit in his mind where put Katie, Andy, Lawrence, his father. His hand rose up and pressed his palm against Aaron’s cheek.

Aaron hummed in his sleep, face leaning into Robert’s touch and he held his breath, afraid he might have woken up. The impulse to touch had quieted his mind — somewhat. He frowned and stared at Aaron, forced himself to close his eyes.

You’re a fool to trust me.

~~~

He woke up slower, shifting on the pillow and realizing Aaron was on the side of the bed. The hotel robe wrapped around him and drinking coffee. Robert frowned at the distance, remembering falling asleep facing Aaron and feeling unworthy. It curled around in his stomach now, and he wondered if he was meant to mention last night. “Do you run on pure caffeine or something?” he asked instead.

“No, I just didn’t sleep great.”

“Did I snore?” Robert sighed inwardly as he asked, knowing if Aaron hadn’t slept well that wouldn’t have been why — what Aaron shared last night was rolling through him. He wanted to check he was alright, but he wasn’t at all sure how to bring it up and kept hoping Aaron would clue him in to what he might want.

“No. Did kick me a few times though.”

“Sorry, Chrissie kills me when I do that.” Robert cursed himself for his phrasing, wincing inwardly, and he was sure he saw Aaron stiffen. His mind raced, was it the phrasing, was it bringing up Chrissie — Aaron always hated the reminder of her. But the moment passed, and Aaron surprised him.

“Have to get a bigger bed next time then?”

“So this is happening again is it?” he asked sitting up a bit more in the bed.

“Well, yeah, if you can get away?” Aaron turned around, moving closer to him as he spoke. But his phone went off. “It’s Adam… he’s made a deal already.”

Robert felt distracted by the small smile that came with it. Aaron was bloody beautiful. “See, I told ya it’d all come good.”

Aaron’s smile fell, and his eyes glanced down. Robert felt worry spike up his spine, and he wondered if he was going to bring up his confession for a half a second but when he spoke Aaron took things in another direction.

“Yeah, um… Look, what you said to me about…you know…not giving up.” He looked back up at Robert. “Well, it meant a lot to me.”

It was crushing, the weight of it, the memory of that moment mixed up with what Aaron whispered to him in the darkness. Fell for He remembered those words flying out of his mouth, and he couldn’t mean them. He didn’t mean them, and he swallowed. He needed to shift the tension in the air between them, he needed to distract away from what Aaron meant, what he was leading toward revealing, and from what Robert had already said.

“Thanks…..But, I didn’t get us a late checkout so we could talk about work,” he said, purposely making his tone teasing as he crawled towards Aaron on his hands and knees.

“Don’t you have to get back?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to,” he admitted. He didn’t, it was the last thing he wanted, and that should probably scare him more. “Do you?”

They were staring at each other. They seemed to do that, they seemed to like staring, Robert thought. He never remembered doing this before. Did he know anyone else’s eyes like he knew Aaron’s? Aaron was shaking his head, his eyes darted down to Robert’s lips, then back up to re-lock their gaze. “No.”

“Well, then, looks like you’re just stuck with me then.” He kissed him, telling himself he would distract them both with sex. It was what they both needed. Aaron's confession wasn’t going to be talked about again, not now, and he couldn’t leave the subject of their possible mutual — No. It’s not that. We’re not in… Robert lunged forward, yanking Aaron by the collar of the robe onto the bed, so they were both on its surface.

Sex. They could get lost in sex. Because they were amazing at it and it needn’t be anything more than the two of them getting off. Better than you can with anyone else…

Aaron deepened their kiss, Robert fell into it and decided to let Aaron take control. He had been the last two times they were together, and the ease of it was simple and primal. It was the perfect way to clear his mind of all the things buzzing inside of it. So, Robert opened his mouth to Aaron’s tongue, let his hands loosen on the robe and allowed himself to be pushed back onto his back, and moan at the contrast between Aaron’s beard and his lips as he kissed down Robert’s throat.

“Aaron…” he moaned, his nipple trapped between Aaron’s teeth, his hand on his shoulders and pushed at the robe. “Strip.”

Aaron laughed around his nipple, flattened his tongue against it and made Robert’s hips buck. “What you want a show?”

He licked his lips and stared up at him. “Maybe.”

Aaron blushed, his ears red as he straddled Robert’s waist, the robe was all bunched up around his waist, and his t-shirt had ridden up his stomach. Robert dipped his eyes down, to see the flat of his stomach and the dark hair under his navel. “Show me, Aaron…” he demanded.

“Shit…” Aaron bit his lower lip.

Robert moved up and leaned on his elbows. “You’re beautiful,” he breathed out to encourage him.

“Never been called that before,” Aaron muttered.

“Been sleeping with all the wrong men then.”

Aaron stared at him, and Robert just met his gaze. How as it so easy and right and maybe someday he’d settle on a shade of blue for Aaron’s eyes. He wondered how dark his own might be, right now, as Aaron moved up on knees and took off the robe.

“Not doing a striptease.”

“I’ll settle for off.”

Aaron huffed a laugh, using it was an excuse to avert his eyes. Robert felt denied his eyes but was distracted soon enough from Aaron pulling off the t-shirt he was wearing. His eyes dragged up Aaron slowly, lust dulling the ache in his heart at the sight of the scars and his elbows gave out as he met Aaron’s eyes again. Aaron biting his lip for a second and then he was over Robert, pressing their naked chests together and their mouths met. Robert arched up underneath him, wrapping legs around Aaron’s waist. Thankful for the moment, they were both in pants because it might all end too soon. He almost felt set on fire around Aaron, and he half wondered if it would ever die down.

hope not.

“Robert,” Aaron mouth was on his cheek, his voice in his ear. “Robert…” he whispered again and was again making a path down to his chest, Robert fisted the sheets and threw his head back. Aaron knew what he was doing, where he was going, and when his mouth finally wrapped around the head of Robert’s cock, he was shocked he didn’t come.

“Shit..shit….slow…” Robert moaned.

“Hmmm,” Aaron hummed around him, but he did as Robert begged. He didn’t want it over either, Robert knew that too, they were both on the exact same page.

“Yeah, Aaron, shit that, that with your tongue…”

Aaron repeated whatever it’d been he done, Robert’s hips bucked, and Aaron’s hands shot to his hips to keep him down.

“Not sorry,” Robert muttered.

“Git,” Aaron huffed.

“Back, back,” Robert waved his hand Aaron’s face then his cock.

“Coherent.”

“Shit, Aaron, swallow my cock, please... Fucking suck it.”

“Fuck,” was all he heard before he was back in the heaven that was Aaron’s mouth. He leaned up, best he could, hands finding Aaron’s hair, twisting fingers into it and keening and he felt himself spasm and then float away. He blinked staring up at the ceiling and felt whiskers and lips against his hip.

“Shit,” he whispered blearily and leaned up to look down at Aaron.

He was scooping come off of Robert’s stomach. “Hey,” he said all cheek.

Robert let his head fall back down, felt his spent cock twitch, sensitive, and he hissed. He felt lips against his hip again and sighed. Tongue lathing against the skin and he whimpered. “Up, up…” he muttered.

Somehow Aaron knew what he meant, and he was hovering over him again. Lips wet and eyes bright. Robert slapped his hand against his face, loving the feel of his beard against his palm. “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You got another go?” Aaron asked. “Cause you seem out of it, this too much for a guy your age?”

“Shut up,” Robert muttered, hand moving to the back of Aaron’s neck and pulling him down. He moaned into the kiss, tasting himself on Aaron’s tongue, he sought it out, deepening the kiss. He sighed into it, slowing it down, after a minute and thinking he could do just this forever.

He broke their kiss and stared into those damn blue eyes. “Aaron…” he doesn’t know what he was saying, he pawed at his face and felt dizzy. Everything was landing again inside of him. Aaron’s confession and his own words. Don’t make me think I fell for a quitter. It’s all crashing together, and this isn’t a distraction from it at all, and suddenly, he needs Aaron to know…

“You can tell me anything, you know,” he whispered.

Aaron’s eyes softened.

“Anything… it’s just us,” Robert nodded.

“Rob…” Aaron’s voice is choked.

“Fuck me.”

Aaron's eyes widened.

“Fuck me,” Robert repeated.

“Are, are…” Aaron stammered.

Robert leaned up and bit at the rim of Aaron’s ear. “Fuck me.”

Chapter Text

Aaron groaned as Robert’s teeth bit at his ear a third time and he whispered another fuck me. It sounded like he was begging, but he couldn’t find the ability to feel embarrassed. He wanted this, he felt like needed this, and all he knew was it belonged to Aaron. This was Aaron’s, and it was inevitable. Like their first kiss, like everything between them since that moment on the road.

“Fuck me,” he said again, this time his mouth grazing Aaron’s cheek, the soft bristle of beard. “Please…” it rolled off his tongue in a whimper, and his hands went from Aaron’s jawline to his shoulders. “Aaron?”

He was quiet. Aaron hovered over him, legs straddling Robert’s thighs, bent over him. Robert could feel him hard against him, his erection still trapped behind dark boxers. He was never naked enough, he thought on a whine and shoved at Aaron’s chest. Pushing him up and away a bit, but only so he could look at him. He ran his hands down his chest, palms flat, and stared hungrily up at him.

The scars grabbed his attention. He knew why now and it twisted up his insides in ways he’d never understand, he thought. He felt his eyes sting as he rubbed his thumbs into two of them. They’d been deep ones, and he thought about the pain that caused them, and he wanted to erase the memories, but he knew he couldn’t. But he could bring in better ones, create something better here and now.

“Come on,” he begged as he stroked the scars. “You trusted me, let me trust…” the words got choked up in his emotion, from fear, no he couldn’t admit that out loud. He couldn’t say what he was given Aaron, he was just going to give it. “Fuck me,” he repeated as he leaned up, found another scar and traced it with his tongue. “Please, Aaron.”

Aaron’s eyes were shut, and his breath was harsh. His hands found their way to Robert’s wrists but just held onto them. Didn’t stop his hands from what they were doing and Robert sighed and pressed his mouth more firmly against Aaron’s chest, tongue flattening against the scar underneath.

“Robert…” it was all air.

“I want you,” Robert mumbled into the scar and rolled his hips up.

Aaron grabbed him by his face. His hands against Robert’s cheeks now, he pushed him back until Robert was back flat on his back and Aaron crashed down onto him, tongue plundering into his mouth. Robert keened and rocked up into him, Aaron moaned in his mouth and met the thrust. Then he broke the kiss and kissed Robert’s face and bit at Robert’s ear. “I’ll fuck you.”

Robert sighed.

“Yeah, I’ll fuck you,” Aaron repeated and bit at Robert’s earlobe.

Robert whined when Aaron moved away from him seconds later, but he turned to his side to watch him as he tore a condom off the strip and picked up the lube they’d left on the table by the bed. Their eyes met as Aaron’s attention fell back to the bed, back to him. Robert found himself on his knees and grabbing at Aaron by the waist of his boxers, he pressed forward and rubbed his nose against Aaron’s hidden erection.

“Rob…” Aaron warned.

“Hmm…” Robert inhaled and hooked the fabric in his fingers and yanked them down. Aaron’s cock was right there, beautiful and hard, and Robert stared at it — a rush of trepidation as he took in the size of him. His heart was pounding in his ears, and it took Aaron twisting his hair in his hands for him to notice he was trying to get his attention.

He jolted and looked up, yanked up really by Aaron tugging his hair sharply. Aaron’s eyes were a mix of want and kindness, a softness that caused a lump to form in Robert’s throat. “You’ve done this before?”

“What, yeah…” Robert lied.

“Robert,” Aaron huffed.

“I have,” he lied again and raised up on his knees. He grabbed Aaron’s hips and pressed a kiss against his chest. He felt Aaron’s heart beating underneath his lips, fast and furious. He sighed, relieved because it matched the rush of his own heart, that was loud and getting louder in his ears.

Aaron grabbed at his face again and tilted him up, he leaned down and kissed him. It was soft and chaste. It was a brush of lips, and Robert sighed and matched it with a light brush of his own. Aaron rubbed Robert’s jawline with his thumbs and then pressed a kiss to his temple, and their gazes locked again.

Robert gulped because Aaron was staring right into him. The lie was loud in the air between them. Obvious. Robert’s skin felt aflame, but he clenched his jaw and refused to speak the truth. Aaron sighed and pressed another kiss to his temple and then whispered, okay before softly kissing Robert again.

They kissed.

Soft then hard.

Aaron following the same trail as earlier, down Robert’s chest, teasing his nippled and pressing hands against his hips. Robert rolled his hips up and whimpered when Aaron ignored his cock — hard again — to push at his thighs, ordering him to spread his legs, and he felt cold of the lube, but there was no time to react. The press of Aaron’s finger followed, heat and pressure. Robert hissed as he head fell back, sheets fisted in his hands. He’d fingered himself, of course, he had, but this was different.

“Okay,” Aaron asked though he kept up the pressure.

Robert opened his eyes having realized they closed. He found Aaron’s stare. Their stare. It was grounding, and he rolled his hips and nodded. He didn’t trust his voice, he didn’t trust what words might fall from his mouth. He looked at Aaron and saw beauty, saw this insane man who was trusting him.

Him.

“Aaron…” he cried out, his name falling from his throat and sounding like something else altogether.

Aaron’s breath audible hitched and he pressed another finger, his mouth wrapped around the head of Robert’s cock. Robert whimpered lost in the feel of Aaron all around him and inside him. It wasn’t enough, he keened and rocked his hips, craving more and then he bit his lip as Aaron added another finger and let Robert’s cock leave his mouth. Robert wrapped his hand around himself and leaned up, eyes wide and watching Aaron’s fingers fuck into him.

“Not enough…Aaron…” their eyes met. “Fuck me.”

Aaron nodded, and Robert was empty, and he whined, but Aaron’s moments were rushed, he looked wild almost, and Robert wondered if he mirrored it. Aaron was over him, between his legs and he felt the head of his cock against his rim and sighed, spread his legs more grabbed at Aaron’s shoulders. “Fuck me, fuck me,” he begged.

“Yes, yes…” Aaron nodded, and he sank in.

Robert’s lost his breath, he tensed for a second, until he felt Aaron’s lips on his neck and jaw and a quiet shh and he wondered what sound he was making. He moved and groaned as pleasure hit past the press of intrusion. His legs wrapped around Aaron’s waist on instinct. “Fuck me,” he begged again.

Aaron’s forehead clunked against his, and they both laughed as they winced. But then their eyes were locked, and Aaron was moving, they rocked together, finding their pace and then the right angle, as they both shifted their hips just right…

Robert keened as he felt Aaron crash into his prostate for the time. “Fuck, fuck… Aaron…there, there, harder…”

“Robert, Robert, Rob…” Aaron was breathless.

They both were, gazes locked, both their cheeks were flushed red, they rutted until it all exploded. They crashed together, eyes closed, mouths kissing whatever skin they found until their mouths found each other again.

Robert pulled back to catch his breath or try to he wasn’t sure he could, and he stared at Aaron and his perfect face. “Aaron, you…” he whispered and then swallowed the rest of the words that wanted to come out. He couldn’t hear them let alone say them.

“Yeah…” Aaron nodded at him and pressed a kiss to his cheek.

~~~

Robert jolted awake. He ached, in ways he hadn’t known possible. He closed his eyes and realized he liked it. He’d loved everything about it — it was terrifying. He rushed away from the heat that was wrapped around him until heard Aaron make a noise. He froze. He wasn’t ready for Aaron to wake up. He couldn’t let himself see those blue eyes until he got himself back under control.

His heart hammered. He ran a hand down his face. It didn’t change anything, he wasn’t — he was still straight. It was just Aaron. It was Aaron. It was his fault, but he wasn’t blaming him. Not really. Robert sighed and let himself look at Aaron. He was flat on his stomach, head turned toward Robert. He looked young, he seemed relaxed. He looked peaceful.

Robert smiled and pushed his fingers into the curls that fallen over Aaron’s brow. He was beautiful, and he deserved so much, Robert thought. Better than you. He shifted and felt it again, that ache that told him he’d given Aaron a piece of himself. He couldn’t regret it, as freaked out as his heartbeat told him he felt.

His cellphone trilled, and he looked at it. It was face up on the table by the bed. Chrissie’s name flashing on the screen. Guilt rushed him, but not about her, and that was troubling. But he looked back at Aaron. And knew. Didn’t matter what it took. He wasn’t giving Aaron up, there was no way, he couldn’t. Not when they, what he felt with him, it wasn’t something you walked away from — he knew that now.

Aaron was under his skin.

There was no way this affair was going end.

No matter what it took.

Chapter Text

Robert felt sick to his stomach. His whole body shook, and he told himself it was adrenaline. The rush from the hospital, home and to the Woolpack. The fear and guilt buzzing in his chest and his head. Uncertain what he was going to do, how he could even manage to stop it. It was luck, pure luck, that he spotted him messing with Chas’ car and was able to shove the briefcase at him.

He felt a jolt of relief, his whole body jerked with it, he breathed out and tried to catch his breath. But it was hard, he was clammy. He shook. He leaned more of his weight against the brick behind him. He looked up at the sky. It was pitch black, not a star in sight and it felt fitting.

Katie was an accident. Chas would’ve been…

His legs gave out on him. He slid down the brick, felt it scrapping his back through his clothes. The pain was welcome and Aaron filled his mind, but that just made everything worse. He hit the ground with a hard thump, his legs sprawled in front of him and suddenly he was cold. He shivered and felt haunted by Aaron confession of needing Chas. His mum’s face appeared in his mind, and he shuddered. Guilt and disgust rolling through him and his own mother entered his mind.

He felt it then, her pointed disappointment. He knew the look she'd get on her face, and he saw his father’s face, smug and knowing. Jack Sugden proved right that his son ruined lives.

Aaron.

Suddenly he was on his feet, rushing back to his car and turning the ignition. He floored it and sped toward Hotten, thankful for the late hour and the empty roads. Because his mind was scrambling, his mind was living the last few months over and over again.

Katie falling through the floorboards. Andy clinging to her lifeless body and the guilt of it twisting into Robert’s chest. The quarry, the site of his nightly bad dreams, where both his brother and Aaron would vanish over the edge — and he’d wake up to Chrissie swearing at him for kicking her too hard. Or he wouldn’t sleep at all and tell himself it was best to stay away from Aaron.

Only Aaron was crumbling. He saw him running and running out of the corner of his eyes. He heard Chas worrying he was hurting himself and then he saw it himself. Aaron running himself sick and he had felt ill himself. And he couldn’t keep away, he couldn’t stay away. He couldn’t watch him suffer, and so he told the truth — nearly all of it — he told Aaron what he could and tried to lift some of the burden from Aaron’s shoulders.

He nearly told him about his nightmares about the quarry, but instead, words he’d never admitted to quietly to himself flew out of his mouth. Fear, guilt and control and the truth all flying together and then it was out there.

He loved Aaron.

Loved him.

But he hurt him. Easter had been a mistake, a week alone, every day, laughing. They never grew bored, they shared favorite movies and drank beer. It was all so easy and simple. Robert felt nothing but dread when Chrissie had texted — it was why he put off telling Aaron. He hadn’t wanted it to end either, but it all been a dream. A lie. Their reality wasn’t domestic bliss and Robert shouldn’t have gotten caught up in the emotion of the confession, and then Aaron bottled it.

He got angry, and he took it out on himself.

And now his leg was broken, and he was in a hospital bed. Now Chas and Paddy both knew too much, separately and together. Aaron needed his parents, Robert felt a spike of jealousy. His were gone. His father hated him. Sarah — would too, wouldn’t she?

He stood in the hospital now, watching Aaron sleep, made his way through quiet halls despite it being past visiting hours. He shouldn’t be here. He stared at Aaron in the bed, heart pounding and wondered why the hell he was here.

He could confess, he could really confess this time. Tell him how he shoved Katie, angry and selfish, and she died because of it. Tell him how he panicked that Chas was also threatening to upend his life — he couldn't give up Chrissie, he couldn’t. He worked so hard, he fought so hard to be who he was — a businessman, with a sophisticated and brilliant wife. The kind of life Jack Sugden wouldn’t hate him for, because even if it wasn’t the life of a farmer, it was normal, it was right, it was what people did.

It was what he wanted.

Katie, Chas… why had they threatened it?

Robert sat down in a chair in Aaron’s room. What was he doing here? He stared at Aaron. He looked so small, in the bed, and he shivered when he remembered he’d looked smaller on the ground in the woods. Shivering from being in the cold overnight, it was a miracle he wasn’t hypothermic. He looked at the broken leg and knew it was his fault — he’d led Aaron on too much, pulled him into his bed and his home when he knew it was all just for a few days.

They were a secret, but secrets ate at Aaron. He thought about the scars on his stomach as he took in the broken leg. He should end it. He could finish it. End them. He could tell Aaron the truth, confess to what he almost did. How he nearly killed Chas…

It was the perfect way to end it. End them. Save Aaron from him. He didn’t deserve him and wondered how or why he loved him. Loved Robert? What had he done to fool him? How had he fooled him? He was running and spinning out of control because he loved Robert…

Because of Robert.

“No, no, no…” Robert shook his head and straightened himself up in the chair. He scrubbed his hands over his face and took in a deep breath. “No,” he repeated again.

Katie was an accident.

You stopped it, and Chas is fine. It never happened.

It never happened.

But Aaron.

He moved out of the chair and found himself standing by the bed. He frowned again about how small Aaron looked. He ran his hand through his hair, unable to stop himself. He’d hurt him. This was his fault, everything was a mess, and he should walk away. That was why he came here after all, but he felt the softness of Aaron’s hair against his fingers. He was beautiful, and he loved Robert — for some reason.

He shouldn’t, Robert thought. It wasn’t logical. Aaron knew him well enough to know he shouldn’t love him. Love someone like Robert. But he did. Robert stared at his face and knew he didn’t have it in him to give this up. Give Aaron up, he just couldn’t…

It was dangerous.

It was a mistake.

But he never liked to live without risk.

You don’t deserve him. He knew it. Deep inside. But it didn’t matter. He wanted him. Robert wanted Aaron. He wanted to try to keep him safe. Robert nodded, leaned down and kissed Aaron’s forehead. Told himself he’d keep a better eye on him, not let Aaron run himself ragged again. If they were together, it was the best for them both, it really was…

He could protect them both.

Keep his life exactly how he needed it.

Robert was in control.

He ran his fingers into Aaron’s hair one last time, then left the room. Katie was an accident. Nothing happened with Chas. You can protect Aaron and yourself.

He believed it.

Chapter Text

It all fell apart.
His perfect plan.
The chosen perfect life and the hidden love.
He and Aaron broke into unfixable pieces.

They were on, and they were off. It was the same old push and pull. Robert wanted to keep Home Farm, Chrissie, the money. Aaron wanting more and more of his time, his attention, and his affection. Aaron hated the lies and Robert lived on them. He breathed the lies, they were the only life he knew, and he wanted Aaron. But not enough to know how to stop. He wouldn’t give the perfect life at Home Farm up. It was this that caused it all. All his worst impulses rose up and everything really good he’d found ended with Aaron tied up and Paddy bleeding.

His worst secrets were dragged out into the light. Andy found out that Katie, limp and lifeless was at his hands. The world thought he was gay or confused. He lost the money and the gorgeous wife. It made his tongue sharp and mean.

The more hurt he was, the worse of a weapon he’d become.

And he'd meant to leave.

He was going to run. He was going to leave Emmerdale again, and this time, this time he wouldn’t look back. He wouldn’t let it try to turn his head again. He’d forge forward and forget it all. Forget them all. He was better off without him. He would pretend the thought never seeing Aaron again wasn’t burning a hole deep inside of him.

“You have to go!” Chas Dingle shouted.

I am.

But he never told her.

Instead, everything went black.

~~~

He jumped out of his skin, jolted wide awake, his heart a loud drum in his ears, he could feel it against his chest. He groaned, and it hurt to breathe, his lung weakened, and he closed his eyes. Only for the fly right open again. There was no peace in the darkness, not if he couldn’t sleep. And he couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was nightmares, but he couldn’t remember a thing — it was just empty.

Empty.

He was tired of staring at the ceiling, and there was no sleeping. He started to move out of the bed. It was irritating how slow it was but finally made it over the side of the bed. His feet on the floor. His legs unsteady, his steps slow but walked toward the bathroom for the patients. He wasn’t meant to go to it alone, but it was late, and he wasn’t about to call for help. The last thing he wanted was someone giving him fake comfort and a work smile.

He turned on the light, and a dim light filled a shabby bathroom. He looked shabby too, he thought as he looked in the mirror. Pasty skin and pale lips. Circles under his eyes, like he hadn’t slept in days despite the fact he’d been in a coma for a month. A month where the entire world continued to spin and change without him. A world where Aaron Dingle was in prison for shooting him.

“No,” he said, he watched the reflection of it in the mirror. It felt wrong, it felt physically wrong to him. His body tensed and his skin felt uncomfortable over his bones. Aaron wouldn’t have…

Why wouldn’t he have? He loves you? Right. Why would he? You nearly killed Paddy twice… if he knew about Chas. He knows what you did to Katie. You held him hostage — doesn’t matter you could never have pulled that trigger. He thought you could. Why wouldn’t have shot you? Maybe it was why Chas wanted you to leave, was shouting at you to disappear… Afraid of what Aaron might do? Protecting him with her every breathe…

You were cruel.

You were crude.

You threw Jackson and his self-harm in his face — you did it again, and you’d promised yourself you never would.

Robert shuddered, and it felt like ice was dripping down his spine. He closed his eyes but a gunshot echoed in the darkness, and they shot open again. But which was it? The one that shot him, or the one that came from his hand to Paddy’s shoulder. He wiped his eyes and felt sick, he felt ill.

“It was probably Aaron… who else could hate that much?”

Andy.

That felt truer, it didn’t rub against him, the thought of it. It didn’t hurt near as much. Oh, it hurt, but it didn’t bruise him from the inside out and make him feel raw and lost and unseen. Aaron saw him, how he could not keep on seeing him? But hadn’t that been what he wanted? Hadn’t that what he’d been doing? Lashing out to hurt him, harm him, cut Aaron harder than Aaron cut himself?

“Shit…” he sighed. He wanted it to be Andy, it needed to be Andy. It was fucked up, it was so bloody fucked up, but he could deal with hating Andy — it’d been his status quo for so long, since the day his mum died. Hating Andy was in his DNA, his jealousy of Andy’s relationship with Jack — he wanted his whole to destroy Andy. And he had the moment Katie fell through those floorboards.

And he hated himself for it.

But not near as much as he hated himself for hurting Aaron.

Andy. Aaron. Diane and Vic were insisting that Andy’s alibi was airtight, he was on CCTV. He was at the hospital, putting himself in on a psych hold. They insisted that Aaron had had the gun, had been hiding it… That was…

“No,” he said again, a whine in his voice.

You did it. If it was Aaron. If it was Andy. If it was either one of them I was really YOU.

Robert lifted his shirt and pulled at the bandage over his chest. Winced as it pulled at skin and hair. Stitches still in, ugly, but small… a bullet hole inside of him and his lung. He inhaled, it hurt, they said it would get easier. They said he was lucky and likely to never feel any lasting effects. He could hear Jack and Katie in his head, cold and hard, unforgiving and angry he’d gotten away with something again.

He didn’t feel lucky.

He stared at it and realized it would scar. There would be a scar, and he could never forget. Never forget that someone he loved hated him enough to shoot him — Andy, not Aaron. It was hope because no matter how true it felt to him, it was a lie. Wasn’t it?

Aaron was in jail.

He hid the gun.

“No,” he mumbled again and thought about different scars. You’re never forgiven. Promise yourself. Never forgiven. Twisting it back on him, using it to hurt him, knowing Jackson would be a shard of glass through his skin and into Aaron’s heart.

The door moved behind him and jolted, terror-filled him and his hand against his scar and he turned, wide-eyed and breathing harshly. A nurse shook her head. “Mr. Sugden, you should be in bed, what have you done?”

He resigned himself to her hovering, her hand on his bicep, pulling him back to his bed, and fixing his bandages and chastising him like he’s a child who snuck out of bed. He wasn’t a grown man — wasn’t he? He glared at her as she left, rude thanks having left his tongue.

The truth was the only person he wanted to see was Aaron.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t a conscious decision. But one second he was on Vic’s couch and the next he’s outside the Woolpack, in the car park, standing where it happened. Where he was shot. He stood, and he could hear Chas, shrill and desperate to make him leave. Wanting him to disappear from Aaron’s life. If she hadn’t been standing right there, close enough to be sure to kill him if she wanted too, she’d be one of his main suspects. But it couldn’t have been her, and it could have hit her thought, and it made him shake his head. The bullet could have hit her, they were standing close enough — did Aaron hate him enough to risk it? Risk that? Was that possible?

Or was he rationalizing like Vic thought he was? She wasn’t saying it, but she kept pointing the finger on Aaron. She was so sure, and he knew she cared about Aaron. They were mates, true friends — Aaron had gotten mad on her behalf more than once, shouting at him for being a bad brother.

BANG.

He looked up, maybe in the direction the sound came, it all happened so fast. He’d been going to look up, but then he’d been looking down because he’d felt fire and something sharp. Then things when dull and fuzzy. He’d been cold, and then it was all dark. He hadn’t seen anything. He’d barely heard it, really, or hadn’t the chance to process it. It was Chas’s shrill voice shouting at him and then screaming that rang in his ears more than anything else.

It was pointless. There were no answers, it was a bloody car park. He told Vic as much when she showed up, nagging and caring about him. The only one who really did, and he kept wondering why — the rest of the village hated him. Weren’t upset he was shot at all, some of them probably celebrated it and were upset he’d found his way out of the hospital walls. Like Andy, who looked at him with pure hatred. Andy who wanted nothing to do with him and kept making him doubt the truth.

Because the hate in his brothers eyes, that screamed I'm willing to kill . He let Vic fuss around him, get back down on her couch. Saw the worry and concern in her hazel eyes — eyes so much like their Mum’s, and he had to look away. The thought of either his Mum or Vic looking at him with hate, or disappointment crushing against his chest. He felt a stab where the bullet wound was, and his hand came up this chest.

“Let me get your pills,” Vic said.

He watched her go. She would hate him too if she knew the truth about Katie. She would never forgive him, she’d stand with Andy, and he’d have nowhere to be, nowhere to go and no one to take care of him. He closed his eyes and felt the guilt again, the heaviness of that split second of time he couldn’t take back. Robert shuddered and started burying it again, pushing it down and repeating to himself that was an accident. It wasn’t something he wanted, he never would’ve wanted that — it’s never what he thought finally destroying Andy would feel like.

And it lost him Aaron. Every choice he made that day, lost him Aaron in the end — it just happened in slower motion than Katie’s fall. But it was the end, he thought. And led to here and now. Him in pain, mental and physical, alone on his sister’s couch.

~~~

When he looks me in the eye, I’ll know. I’m sure I will.

Will you?

Robert couldn’t sleep. It was frustrating, and the pain pills were fogging his brain, but not enough sleep could take him. Not enough to dull the nightmares, which were just a void of black with the echo of a gun that’d jolt him awake if he started to drift off. The ceiling in the spare room at Vic’s was no better than the hospital ceiling. Just more white plaster, really, just nothing at all. There was nothing to distract from his thoughts.

Aaron. He looked guilty, the facts works, they made sense. It was perfect maths really, he thought. He knew better than anyway why Aaron would hate him enough to snap, to shoot him, and to try to bury him. Robert hurt him, on purpose, he used all the right words, all the right weapons and stripped Aaron bare at the scrapyard. He could hear his own voice echoing on the wind still from the day. Remember the hurt, the pain, he felt when Aaron didn’t understand what he’d done to protect him. He hadn’t been just protecting himself from going down for manslaughter — he had to protect Aaron too. It was always about protecting them both…

was it?

He clenched his jaw. He was selfish, but he always had to be, because somewhere along the line growing up, he started coming in last. Every time and if he hadn’t started looking out for himself and himself alone. He never would have survived. He wouldn’t be alive…

You could be dead right now…

He closed his eyes, he wanted to stop thinking, why couldn’t he sleep. He was safe in Keepers, there were no hospital noises to jolt him awake, no fear of anyone walking into his room while he slept. There was nothing to be paranoid about — the shooter was behind bars. He kept hearing Vic, saying it over and over. To Adam, to Andy, to Him.

No. Aaron loves you.

Robert laughed.

You love him.

He wiped at his eyes and shook his head. That was the voice, shouting no inside of him every time he thought about Aaron being the shooter. Every time his entire mind, body, and soul wanted to slam the door on the idea of Aaron wanting him dead.

Love

It was loving Aaron and wasn’t quiet, it wasn’t going to be silenced by the facts or his sister's certainty. It kept fighting and fighting to be heard and to make him listen. But he couldn’t, he shouldn’t, it wasn’t the way to survive this — and maybe, maybe he was right, and when he saw Aaron, he would know for sure. Their eyes would meet, and he’d see, he'd know if there was anything left between them or not.

If Aaron still loved him, how could he want to kill him?

How could he still love you?

Will you really know? If you look at him? Will you see the truth?

He stayed awake and watched the shapes the shadows of the sunrise created on the ceiling until he couldn’t stare at it anymore and got up. He dressed quickly and quietly and made his way out of the cottage. And he walked around the village, watching it slowly wake until he could go to the cafe and get some coffee — he felt like a shell, he felt empty, he wasn’t tired and he wasn’t awake. Anxiety crawled up and down his skin, and he wondered if he could really even make himself go to the plea hearing.

He wondered if he could? Could he really look into those blue eyes ever again?

~~~

Dull blue was his first thought, and it felt wrong like it wasn’t Aaron he was looking at it, it was some other man with his shape in a blue suit. But not Aaron, not the man he’d known and touched and loved despite himself. He tried not to love him, but it never worked, the feelings would bubble over, and he felt it fighting to take over now, but he tampered it down. Because Aaron’s stare was stony, his eyes were a wall, he was blocking Robert out. Aaron was protecting himself from Robert, and he felt sick.

He believed it. He believed it for the first time since he woke up that Aaron was capable of shooting him. That he could’ve shot him and it made his wound throb. It hurt to breathe, and he found himself sitting but unable to relax. Restlessness took over, he shook his head, he shook his whole body and then he was shouting, shouting at Aaron to tell the truth…

He needed to hear the words to believe them, and he wasn’t really there, not in the courtroom, not really. He was just lost in the idea suddenly that it was possible the beautiful man before him, hated him so much he was protecting himself from Robert. That he shot him.

Their eyes met again, and Aaron’s remained hard, but they turned to fire, they burned through Robert and somehow the look of betrayal, anger and hatred hurt far more than words Aaron’s shouted. “You deserved everything you got. And you should done the world a favor and dropped dead.”

Everything stopped, and Robert felt like he was shattering to pieces, but that hard thing that lived inside of him suddenly reared up and took over. He couldn’t survive unless he got angry, he couldn’t live unless he got angry, he couldn’t get through and survive this pain without being angry.

If Aaron shot him.

Aaron deserved what he got.

No something whispered at him, and he knew what it was, love, belief in Aaron, a burning hope, but it meant nothing, it was a lie. If they ever had anything it’d been lost, it was dead. It didn’t matter anymore. This was the truth. Aaron was going to go to jail, for life, for trying to kill him.

Anger was easy for him, hate was easy for him, it was easy to project outward from deep within, he thought, and blinked his eyes and clenched both his fists and his jaw. He dug in deep on it, he thought about the way Aaron wouldn’t let him in, how his voice rung hard in his ears.

Aaron deserved the consequences.

Aaron shot him.

Chapter Text

“I want to know if I can get him out or not if you can’t find me the answers I’ll get a new solicitor,” Robert yelled in his phone, then slammed it down on the closest surface and walked out of Keepers. He wasn’t even aware he’d done it until he was outside and then he didn’t know what to do…

The truth of that was loud, he didn’t know what to do at all. He didn’t care about the scrapyard, he never really had — not as an investment anyway. He’d like seeing Aaron growing more and more confident in running it, though. That’d been a joy to see, to watch and he was good at it. Maybe he wasn’t a workaholic like Robert, but he put in the effort, seemed to get something from ripping apart cars and other scrap. He and Adam were making a go of it — a good go of it. And he’d felt smug about it, smug that he’d known Aaron could do it when no one else seemed to believe in it.

You’re supposed to hate him. He laughed, bitterly and his throat was dry, and it caught. It hurt. He coughed and felt his stitches threaten to pull. What if he was still out there? The shooter? It flew through his mind before he could stop it before he could catch it, before he could remind himself. The shooter was Aaron.

“Fuck,” he sighed. He was meant to hate him. He was meant to believe it. He believed the hatred and anger he’d seen in Aaron’s eyes at the courtroom. Wasn’t that enough proof, it was enough proof. He had the gun. He hated him — and when would that stop clawing at his heart and ripping it to shreds.

Hate him. He screamed internally. Hate. Anger. Those were his go-tos, that was how he survived. He hated those who hurt him, he loathed them, he told himself he better off on his own, alone. He was better off with Aaron Livesy…

Only it felt like such a lie.

It always was, though wasn’t it? He thought. Hating his dad, hating Katie, hating Andy — that was always a lie. He scraped his hands over his face again and leaned against a nearby tree. He wasn’t even sure where he’d ended up. He’d just been walking, but he felt out of , and it wasn’t sure if that was being shot or from his mind being a mess.

It was always a lie. His armor of hate. But it’d been easy, it’d been so easy to erect. Why was it falling apart, was it in pieces now? Why couldn’t he cover himself up with the hatred and fuel himself forward? To do what? He sighed. Leave Emmerdale? Like he was going to, before the shooting? He was going to leave. He wanted to leave.

Only now he didn’t want to? Had he ever wanted too? He touched his chest and sighed. Someone hated himself to shoot him. Someone hated him enough to want him dead. They wanted him in the ground. Aaron hated him, his eyes been shut down and stony. A wall, between them, when in the past there been nothing between them at all…

No. No, you kept Chrissie and money between you. You kept your lies about yourself between you and Aaron. Lies about himself, he shuddered a bit and let his head thunk against the tree trunk behind him. He wasn’t who he claimed he was, he was a lie. He wasn’t loudly confident. He wasn’t out only for money — though it didn’t hurt.

He wasn’t straight.

He wasn’t gay either.

Why was it so muddy? He flinched at memories of Jack flying back and the look of hatred in his eyes that flickered into the disappointment and lack of love he’d seen in them. That day long ago, when he last saw his dad… When he chose Andy. He'd always chosen Andy.

And why? He knew why he always knew why. Robert was wrong…

No.

He breathed out and knew, he knew. He didn’t hate Aaron. He didn’t hate Andy. He didn’t hate his father. Maybe he hated himself, though and he couldn’t erect up his usual armor. He couldn’t find his confidence, he couldn’t find that smug inner arsehole that’d been helping him survive since his mum’s death. He was hated, and he couldn’t blame anyone but himself, and he knew it.

And he still didn’t really buy it, deep down, he still couldn’t really believe Aaron shot him. It cut him up, it made his skin uncomfortable around his bones. He loved Aaron — they had something. They had something he’d taken for granted that he wouldn’t allow himself fall into, not completely, because if he had…

If he had there would have been no turning back.

And he wasn’t gay.

But he wasn’t straight.

He needed a drink. He couldn’t go to the Woolie, Chas already tossed him out, earlier and really could blame her? He sighed and checked his pockets and realized he hadn’t his phone or his keys. He looked around and figured out the way back to Keepers and started walking.

Aaron refused to leave him, though. Try as he might with every step, to push him to the back of his mind. Try as might to reason with himself and tell himself he needed to face it, he needed to accept it. Aaron shot him. He'd seen it, the hate in Aaron’s eyes, the wall Aaron had erected to keep Robert out — to keep Robert from really seeing him. Because Robert wasn’t deserving of Aaron any longer. He didn’t deserve Aaron. If Aaron — no Aaron did it, he did it. The anger, the hatred, the wishing him dead. The gun. The gun, he had the gun. Robert sighed and fought against the facts, everything inside of him kept fighting against the facts.

If Aaron shot him, he deserved it. He didn’t deserve Aaron. But Aaron didn’t deserve to pay… And he was supposed to fall into that anger, he was supposed to hate someone who tried to kill him. Wasn’t he? He was all confused, and his chest ached, physically and with something deeper. Something more that he couldn’t shake off no matter what he tried.

He felt upside down. His survivor tricks weren’t working, and he couldn’t find his well of inner smugness to coat himself with and fight the world. Be anger, lash out — he wouldn’t get Aaron out of the scrapyard. He can’t do it, he can’t do it to him…

He hated the thought of him in jail. It scared him, terrified him. He touched his own wound, thinking about how it might scar and fear made his bones quake. What if he hurt himself? What if Aaron?

Why can’t I just hate you like I do everyone else?

But he laughed bitterly again because he knew it was all lies. He couldn’t hate Andy completely, a piece of him would always fight for Andy’s bloody approval and the same with Jack. He just felt better the more he lied to himself about it, the more distance he put between them. And was that it? Was the answer?

He’d have to leave Emmerdale.

Leave Aaron.

His phone was ringing as he walked into Keeper's Cottage. He sighed and hurried over to it and hoped it wasn’t his solicitor with an answer to the question. Already he was planning on calling them and changing his needs — no, what he needed to do was get himself out of the scrapyard. He wanted nothing to do with it anymore. Not if his only choice was to walk away.

It pinged to tell him a voicemail been left before he picked it up. Ashley Thomas? Nervous energy filled him, remembering his odd conversation with Ashley earlier in the day. The vicar worried Andy was going to hurt himself and Robert hated the rush of worry he felt as he pushed the buttons to call up Ashley’s message, soon the man’s voice was in ear.

“Andy, it’s Ashley. I need to know what you meant about doing a deal. You must know nothing can justify sending an innocent man to prison. So, I am giving you one last chance to do the right thing, or I’ll have to call the police myself. You’ve left me with no other choice.”

Chapter Text

The smell of fire was in his nose. It was horribly familiar. It was the sense memory of the end of his world. His mum. Fire was the thing that took her from him. And it felt he could never escape it. Fires screamed to life around him.

It was on his clothes, it was in was in his lungs. He stripped quickly, watched the bloody shirt fall to the floor. Fabric fluttering in the air, but the weight of his blood dragging it faster to the ground. But as he watched it felt like it fell in slow motion.

It was all Andy’s fault.

It was always Andy’s fault.

Then. Now.

Something dark and broken rose up inside of him the day Sarah died, and it was all wrapped up in the fact Andy wanted to kill him. Wanted him dead and now he was surrounded by the smell and memory of fire. Again. Because of his brother. And he needed to scrub at his skin and get the smell of it away from him. Far far away from him.

Or it might destroy him. It might make him take everything he said to his brother back — and while they hadn’t made peace. Maybe they made progress. It was an impasse but also a promise — to stop. Because it only led to ugly things, it led to fire and destruction. It led to them hurt and bleeding.

Andy hated him. Andy would always hate him. But Robert didn’t hate his brother. He would’ve left Andy to die, twice over by now, if he did — no he loved his brother, but he could never forgive him for Sarah. And Andy would never forgive him for Katie.

It doesn’t feel even.

Andy begged him to leave. He tried to invoke Jack and re-banish him. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t allow it. Robert knew it in his bones, knew the minute he couldn’t drive away from Andy. Knew the moment the flames rose and his only thought was get Andy out. He loved him. He loved his brother, but maybe not more than hated him. But the love is there.

Because it was like he told Andy, in the end, he could never walk away. In the end, he can never leave Emmerdale. Despite the darkness between him and Andy. Despite all the pain. Andy hated him, and he couldn’t even blame him. But he never wanted Andy dead — and it felt like that mattered. Because he couldn’t do it, he could never take that one last step. Hurt Andy, yes. Try to destroy his life. Yes. But take it? No.

But for his brother, it was the opposite. That won’t change, and they haven’t made a truce. They haven’t made peace. There is no clean slate, there is nothing at all — it’s all so empty. Robert felt empty about it, there was no relief, no satisfaction. How could there be, his brother wanted him dead, probably always would — it just was impossible.

It was impossible for them to ever win against each other. Both of them would always lose. It was tragic, and it hurt, it hurt Robert’s heart, but it was what it was. They were at an impasse. There would never be forgiveness, love or peace for him Andy.

But they could promise to stop the violence. It was time to end it. To just find a way to live around each other if not with each other. It had to end, or the circle would just complete again…

Maybe this time they broke it. Simply because there was no going on the way they were.

Robert turned on the shower, upped the heat and told himself it was time to move forward and onward. He sighed and hoped he could live with the fact he wouldn’t know who held the gun. It felt fair, enough, whatever Andy’s sordid deal been. That was Andy problem, not his.

As long as Aaron didn’t pay for it.

He was empty and exhausted from the pain between him and Andy. No anger left, not really, just that bloody ache of wanting to belong in his family. But he was angry about Aaron. He was still upset that Andy was going to allow Aaron to take the fall for it. Be that coward who let it play out, where someone innocent would take the fall. Aaron was kind, Aaron was a good person — unlike him and his brother.

He wouldn’t act on it, he’d promised. But it was hard to let it go because it was Aaron. Aaron never deserved to find himself collateral damage between him and Andy. To be damaged because of him —

He hurt Aaron. More than Andy ever could’ve… the anger twisted and turned against himself. Robert sighed and felt it curl inside of his stomach. He wasn’t angry at Andy. He was angry at himself, and he should have trusted his instincts.

Aaron hated him. He knew it. He saw it. But Aaron wouldn’t have shot him. And he knew that he knew that all along. All he could do now is hope his change of story freed him. The police assured him that Aaron would go free, that they would start looking for the man that fit the false description he’d made up out of the blue. They promised him that Aaron wouldn’t spend any longer than the paperwork to get out of jail would take.

But it wouldn’t feel real until he saw him standing in front of him. Free.

Robert stepped into the shower, hot water pounding onto his skull as he stepped under the spray. He would wash off the grime, wash off the fire, get rid of the smoke and try to just live with the constant pain when it came to Andy. He would make sure Aaron was free…

But it was time for a new start.

Somehow.

For himself.

And he wasn’t leaving home.

Emmerdale was home.

Chapter Text

Robert felt spun and impatient. Aaron was out of prison, and any second now he’d walk through the pub doors. He needed to see him, it was itch under his skin. He felt sick he’d kept Aaron in jail so long, he should have lied to police the moment he found out it was Aaron they’d arrested. Not once had really believed it. No, the closest he’d come was believing Aaron hated him enough to want to kill him, but he never could convince himself Aaron pulled the trigger. Guilt kept itching under his skin, and he looked at his watch, for the millionth time and then the pub doors.

And as if on cue, Aaron walked in, and Robert lost his breath for a moment. He looked tired, he seemed anxious, but he looked free. There wasn’t a weight on his shoulder like there’d been at the courthouse. He tried to keep his composure when Aaron seemed to look right at him like he’d known Robert was there even before he glanced in his direction. He felt a jolt of unease but also relief, his eyes weren’t the dull blue they’d been last time saw him. He was free, Aaron was free, and Robert couldn’t help the relief. Even with the way, Aaron glanced away quickly, as if he hadn’t recognized it was Robert he’d seen. It doesn’t stop Robert from tracking him until Aaron disappeared through the back.

He got up and went to the bar, unable to stop from mentioning Aaron back. It earns him a snipe from Adam, and then Vic yelled at them both and said she couldn’t deal with it today and he’s reminded what day it is — his Mum is gone, and the stab in his heart is sharp. But that’s hidden from Vic, from everyone and Aaron saved him from having to drink with Vic and talk about someone it hurts to think about.

The text was simple: Meet me out back. But hope swelled inside right after the relief of a reason to leave Vic on her own — no with Adam. She’s quickly out of his mind, his Mum less so but walked out of the pub and around to the back. Aaron’s standing there, hands in his pockets and that defiant slouch of his that Robert can’t help finding attractive.

“So, here we both are… Me back in the land of the living and you back in the land of the free,” he said, realizing it felt good to be so close to Aaron again.

“Still all a big joke to you innit?” Aaron’s voice was harsh.

“No…no,” he felt all the hope the text caused deflate and softened his voice. “I’m really glad I got you out.”

“What are you talking about, I never should’ve been there in the first place. I did nothing wrong,” Aaron shouted.

“Well. you’re here now isn’t that the main thing?”

“So, why am I getting the impression I should be grateful here?”

“Would you rather I just left you in there?” Robert snapped familiar anger rising up that his efforts weren’t being noticed, that he wasn’t being seen — and it always hurt worse when it was Aaron.

Deja vu slid down his spine. It was cold and brought with it memories of him at his ugliest. How he’d gone up there, smug and sure that day, to tell Aaron he needn’t worry about any backlash from the police about Katie. He’d gone there to tell Aaron he’d protected him and Aaron thrown it in his face.

Just like now, he realized as Aaron spat out, ““What the hell are you playing at! What took you so long to tell the police it wasn’t me, anyway?”

“I nearly died, Aaron, excuse me if I’m not exactly firing on all cylinders,” he snapped the habit of a lifetime of protective anger rising even as his stomach twisted. He felt in two places at once, the reprehensible things he’d shouted at Aaron that day echoing in his head. He’d poured salt into Aaron deepest and rawest wounds, used something against him Robert swore he never would one night when he watched Aaron sleep.

“Or maybe you’re just trying to mess with my head, again, show me the great Robert Sugden still got all this power,“ Aaron yelled.

“No,” Robert said because no, he wasn’t doing that — maybe he had in the past because he was selfish and afraid. He’d made Aaron keep too many secrets for him, but this wasn’t that — this wasn’t it. He wasn’t the man he’d been in the scrapyard anymore. Or he didn’t want to be, he wanted to be better. The urge to lash out, to shout, to protect himself was there, but it was outweighed by something else. Something that ached and broke when he looked into Aaron’s eyes and saw more than his anger. He saw his pain.

“I swear, Aaron…” he saw that pain and all it did was tell him he still loved Aaron and why couldn’t it be different… “Why are you being like this?”

“Because I’ve been to hell and back, because of YOU.”

The truth was shards of glass and slammed into him. His chest, the wound that was scarring on his lung and deep inside of him, grainy and painful under his skin. A million invisible cuts and there wasn’t anything he could do but hold his tongue and let Aaron lash out. Let Aaron be angry. Let Aaron be the one to hurt him — for once.

“And I meant what I said at the court. I hate ya, and nothing you can do is ever gonna change that.”

Robert felt his knees shake, and his heart plummet. He watched Aaron stalk away, watched until long after Aaron was gone — he’d never looked back. No indication it was bluster and not fact. Why wouldn’t it be a fact? Robert ruined them, he ruined them… Hopefully, he hadn’t ruined Aaron completely. Aaron would be better off away from him.
He knew that.

He also knew he’d always love him.

And knew Aaron would always hate him.

~~~

It was nearly midnight when he found himself in the graveyard, a rose in his hand and feeling empty inside. Victoria left flowers, and even on a moonless night, they looked bright and alive in front of the gray stone of Sarah Sugden’s grave marker. Robert swallowed because she wasn’t vibrant any longer, she wasn’t bright, and she wasn’t here to love him.

But would she?

It was why he hadn’t been able to come with Victoria. It was why he felt half like turning around and running. But he couldn’t. She was the one person who’d never let him down. Not once in his life had she let him down — and right now he wished he had her and it was selfish of him. It was probably wrong, but he just wanted her, he wanted her to tell him he wasn’t a bad person. He wanted her to tell him he could be better. That was worthy of love and forgiveness.

But would she?

“He’s right, Mum… Dad, I ruin things. I’m… I hurt people, doesn’t matter who, even if I… love them…” He sighed. “Andy nearly died, we nearly killed him — we nearly killed me. You’d be disappointed, Mum, wouldn’t you, you wouldn’t look in my eye anymore. Right? Like Dad, like Dad never looked at me the same when…” Robert trailed off and refused to urge he felt to look toward his father’s grave. “Maybe you wouldn’t hate me for that but this… Aaron…” he wiped at his nose and blinked hard his eyes stinging. “He hates me, Mum. I did that, though, I can’t blame him. I put him through hell… more than once. Made him bleed… in more than one way. I could’ve killed him, Mum… And that’d kill me… I…” Robert sighed. “I love him, and I couldn’t face it, hell… not sure I can now, even now.”

He sniffed and looked down at his feet. “Is it what I deserve? To love people who can’t love me? Is that it? Andy… I hate him as much as hate me, but I love him too, more than he can love me. How many times have we tried to kill each other… I can’t, I can’t look at him and not see you dying, Mum. I can’t get past it and now, now he won’t get past me and Katie — I swear, I swear I didn’t mean it to happen, I swear my stomach dropped right to floor with her. But it wasn’t her lying there dead that drove it home. It was Andy holding her, crying like his insides been ripped out… then it was Aaron hurting himself over it all when it was never his fault but I let him think… I roped him in on it to protect myself but… he was the only one I could trust. I trust him, I’ll always trust him… Hilarious,” he laughed emptily. “I made them both hate me, I don’t know how to not be selfish, don’t I?”

Robert shook his head. “You’d hate me if you were here, I know it… and I deserve it…” he dropped the rose on top of the grave marker and turned around. He walked, he walked in a trance until he got Vic’s and then he went upstairs and stared at the ceiling….

For the first time in a series of long nights.