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the shadow of me

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“Shh, settle for me yeah?” Aaron whispers down at Annie who’s trying to kick herself out of her bodysuit. She pulls a face before whimpering and then closing her eyes and Aaron relaxes under it. 

He puts her to bed, plants a kiss on her head and is thankful that he can hear Jacob snoring lightly. He’s finally decided to sleep then. Brilliant. It’s what he’s thinking when he passes past Seb’s door and then he frowns. 

Seb’s being more secretive than usual and Aaron’s on edge about the whole thing because he can’t help himself. He’s usually relaxed about what the teenager gets up to but there’s something gnawing around in his mind. 

“He hardly said two words to me when he got in.” Aaron says once he’s in bed, he turns towards Robert and gets this odd look back as Robert stops reading and frowns at him. 

“Is this still about Seb? Aaron, he’s a teenager.” Robert says, his eyes travel back to the words on the page and then he feels Aaron huff and he can’t ignore him can he? Not when he sounds so worried. 

He half expects Aaron to turn around, forget all about it but then he watches Aaron looking at the bedside table. There’s a picture of all of them, Seb right in the middle of them all.

“It’s just — he didn’t used to be like this.” Aaron absolutely hates it, because it sort of happened with Liv but she was always a little mardy. Seb used to be a little sunshine and now he looks moody and it isn’t fair. 

Robert has a hand on Aaron’s shoulder, squeezes gently and then kisses his head. “He’s probably just stressed, about exams or whatever.” He says, there’s a crease in his brow as he thinks about it. “Don’t worry, Jacob’s still young and cute.” 

Aaron scoffs. “We can’t keep having babies every time one of ours grow up and get moody.”

“Course we can.” Robert looks affronted and it only gets Aaron smiling.

 

 

They find out what the issue is sooner or later because they catch Seb and Isaac running their mouths off on the sofa in front of the tv. 

Aaron doesn’t mean to eavesdrop but Annie’s in his arms and he’s trying to carry the shopping through and he hears what he hears. 

He hears the name Sam.

He hears Seb say the word ‘like’ and then he hears a little more. He hears Isaac laughing and Seb telling him to shut up and keep it to himself. And it’s enough. 

It’s enough for him to bring up over dinner, Jacob and Annie tucked up in bed and the chance for them to focus on Seb. He hasn’t told Robert about it yet, doesn’t even know how to bring it up so he goes for making sure Seb’s around first.

“So you uh ... got any new mates or something?” Aaron stirs his spaghetti around his plate and Robert pours some wine into his glass. It’s weird how Robert and Seb manage to pull the exact same face.

“What’s that mean?” Seb frowns, his freckles disappear as his face reddens. 

“I don’t know.” Aaron flaps, runs a hand across his face and then shrugs. “You’re a teenager, things ... change.” 

Robert’s eyes widen and Aaron wants the ground to swallow him up.

“Are you talking about puberty.” Seb looks disgusted and Aaron rolls his eyes and grimaces. 

“No. No I’m talking about this ... this Sam.” Aaron watches Seb’s face fall, he suddenly looks pale and fidgety and he’s scraping his chair back and running up the stairs.

Seb.” Aaron shouts out and then he looks towards Robert and sees that he’s almost frozen. He just blinks out, eyes wide and breath slow and uneven. “You not going to say anything?” 

Robert shakes his head suddenly and frowns. “Sam?” He whispers. “Who’s ... who’s Sam?” 

Aaron frowns at him and then blinks quickly. “Look, I heard him and Isaac talking before. He said something about liking ... liking him. This Sam. I don’t know, I didn’t hear a lot but ...”

“Heard enough to know that he’s ...” Robert frowns, and the clogs running through his mind don’t seem to stop spinning until Aaron’s nodding his head.

“Probably gay, or bi, or just ... you know ...” Aaron plays with his hands and then he punches Robert lightly on the arm. “It isn’t that big of deal.” He says and Robert looks away. “Is it?”

This feeling of dread seems to blacken the room and Aaron doesn’t know what to say, he just knows that Robert’s always been like this. A little. Something at the back of his mind gnawing away and making him like this, rigid and frozen.

Eventually he shakes his head. “Of course it isn’t.” He says, he bites at his lip and shudders. “It’s just — I didn’t expect it.” 

Aaron leans across a little, he has a hand across Robert’s and he squeezes slightly. He doesn’t add much pressure, just feels Robert’s hand grow clammy in his. 

“Even in this rainbow household?” Aaron says, jokes, tries to anyway and Robert closes his eyes around it. The tea’s gone cold and Aaron can hear Annie whinging on the monitor but he doesn’t want to leave Robert like this. “Robert ...”

“I should go and see him.” Robert says, slides the chair as he gets up and Aaron frowns at him.

“Are you sure you’re up for it?” Aaron whispers, because he knows Robert, he knows his husband and he can see that he looks like he’s been weighed down by the revelation.

Robert nods. “Course.” He smiles, only he isn’t is he? Only he hardly knows how to string a sentence together when he sits down on Seb’s bed and sees that their son has his knees up towards his chest. “Mate ...”

“How did dad know about Sam?” Seb says, his voice is barely there and Robert struggles to not get emotional himself. He’s flawed by how flawed he is and that makes him think of his dad. His reaction.

His disappointed. 

Robert’s mouth opens a little and he shrugs. “He said he heard you and Isaac speaking.” He closes his eyes, opens them again and dancing his hand closer towards Seb’s. “It’s okay.” He whispers. 

“You’re not ... mad?” Seb’s eyes are full of tears and Robert reaches out to grab at his hands and hold them firmly. He shakes his head and he can almost feel the passion run through him. 

“I’d never be mad about that.” Robert’s rubs at his eyes as he pulls his hands away from Seb and then he watches his son look towards the door. He turns to see Aaron standing there with a small smile on his face. 

He crouches down by the bed and sighs slowly. “Is this why you’ve been so ... quiet recently?” Aaron arches an eyebrow and then watches Seb nod his head.

He just looks like a little boy and Aaron just wants to squeeze him until he laughs. 

“I didn’t know if ... it was like ... proper feelings or just that we were mates.” Seb says quietly and Robert feels Aaron staring at him, like he wants him to speak. 

“And now?”

Seb blows out gently. “Proper feelings.” He whispers and Robert isn’t really sure what he feels. 

There’s pride there, buckets of it suddenly because Seb’s only fifteen and he’s figured it all out. 

“You did better than me.” Robert says, then looks at Aaron. “Or him. We stuffed it up, tried to deny it all and it didn’t help.” 

“Course it didn’t.” Aaron says, and then he smiles faintly. “He can come round, we can see him can’t we?”

Seb frowns suddenly and pulls a face. “Him?”

“Sam.”

And the penny drops because Seb scoffs. “Sam’s not a boy.” He says. “Wait, I’m not gay.”

Aaron frowns. “You don’t need to lie to us okay?”

“I’m not.” Seb says, “Sam is ... Samantha but no one calls her that because it’s a horrible name.” 

And of course, of course that’s his logic isn’t it? Teenage shitty logic. 

Robert rubs a hand across his face and then sighs. “You’re not ...”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. Obvs.” Seb waves a hand at Aaron and then frowns. “But I’m not.”

“You said you thought I’d be mad?” Robert frowns a little and Seb looks up towards him and looks awkwardly at them. 

“Liv said you and dad didn’t like her with Jacob, he was my age, I thought you might think I was too young. I don’t know.” And Seb’s still the same little sensitive boy isn’t he? It makes Aaron’s shoulders drop. 

Robert nods his head and then sighs. “Fine.” He says flatly. “I’ll uh ... I’ll just ....” He says and he leaves, he gets out the door and down the stairs and only puts his head up when he sees Aaron standing there nearly half an hour later.

“He’s confused.” Aaron says. “You just ran out.” 

“I was too.” Robert says thickly. “I thought he was ... and he isn’t. So that’s —“

Aaron sits slowly and then closes his eyes for a second. “It shouldn’t matter.” He says. “It doesn’t. Rob?” 

“For a second, I was relieved.” Robert chews at his nail nervously, he doesn’t even want to look up. “I’m like him aren’t I? I can’t help it.”

Aaron has a hand across Robert’s knee and squeezes. He shakes his head, has tears in his eyes. “Don’t be daft.”

“I’m not.” Robert whispers. “I felt like dad. I did. I felt his ... panic.” His eyes are beady and he looks gutted, he looks like he hates himself so much and Aaron just wants to stop his upset but he can’t.

He’s trapped in his own head. 

“That’s what it was.” Robert whispers, “When he caught me back then, he was angry but he was ... he was panicked as well, shocked, confused.”

“And that wasn’t the same as what you felt.” Aaron shudders. “You’re not him.”

“You know how I am.” Robert whispers delicately. “I’m not like you. I’m not ... I’m fine with being me but ... but I’m not ...” he hates this, hates how it’s been so long since that confession in the woods. It feels like a life time ago and yet he’s still not fully over anything. 

He doesn’t know if he ever will be. He doesn’t know. 

“You’re not comfortable?” Aaron doesn’t mean to sound nervous but he is. This is his husband and he’s clearly suffering and he can’t do anything but sit here and try and understand. He’s always tried.

Granted, all of this heavy talk has been on the back burner considering they’ve been a bit busy with babies and nappies and homework but it’s still there. It’s still lost in Robert’s eyes, sometimes Aaron catches him staring at the picture of himself on Jack’s shoulders. It’s not on show, because Robert didn’t really want it to be but it’s on a table near the bathroom and it’s enough. 

He’s always thought it was enough but now Robert’s rubbing at his eyes and shaking his head and saying that he’s sorry.

“You don’t have to be sorry for anything.”

“I am comfortable.” Robert whispers, and then he nods his head. “I’ve never been more comfortable. With you, our family. It’s just ... it’s normal.”

Aaron looks up and then frowns. “Why am I sensing a ‘but’ then?” He whispers, “Hmm?” He has a ghost of a hand across Aaron’s face and he turns it slightly so that Robert is looking at him. “Talk to me.” 

“I can’t help what I feel.” Robert shrugs. “Like it’s not ... I don’t know ... like it’s wrong sometimes. That he was right to be angry, to tell me it’s wrong.” Aaron bites at his lip as Robert shudders. “God that sounds ...”

“Don’t worry how it sounds.”

“When Seb said it was a girl it was like ... like my dad would have been relieved too, like he would have been happy and that was good.” Robert gulps thickly. “I just still want him to be proud, to approve.”

“He doesn’t need your approval.”

Robert frowns. “Yeah. I know.” He says, he goes to get up, he mutters something about forgetting it all but Aaron holds at his arm and gets him sitting back down.

“Seb doesn’t know all of that though. He just thinks you were acting weird.” Aaron whispers, and then he picks up the baby monitor and plays with it in his hand. He rubs a hand across his head and then closes his eyes. “Robert.” He leans over and tries to get something out of his husband, some sort of reaction.

Robert just turns to him. “I wish I was like you.” He blurts out. 

Rob. Don’t say that.” Aaron’s got tears in his eyes again and he frowns. “Don’t say ...”

“You don’t give a shit about being gay.”

“Yeah. Yeah now.” Aaron says, “Not before.” He says darkly and Robert rubs at his head.

“Of course. Sorry. Just ignore me.” Robert says.

“I won’t. And you can’t ignore this either.” Aaron whispers, still shaking his head. “You freaked out when you thought Seb might be gay.”

Robert closes his eyes.

“And it was because of your dad. Did it ... did it bring it back? What he did?” 

Robert half shrugs. “And everything else, I felt like him. I don’t want that for our son. Not Seb, not Jacob. I thought he was scared of telling me so that made me feel bad, and then he said he wasn’t gay and I felt ... felt glad and that made me feel bad too.” He has his head in his hands and everything around him whirls. He feels Aaron’s strong arms around him. “I’m fucked up.”

“You’re not.” Aaron insists, he rubs at Robert’s back and then kisses his head slowly, stays there until Robert looks up at him. “You’ve got a bit of ya that isn’t comfortable with not being straight, because that’s what he said was normal. I get that.”

Robert sighs. “If you can get passed it, after — after everything you went through.” Aaron looks away. “Then why can’t I?” 

He doesn’t remember the last time he was like this, wrecked by his own thoughts and completely wounded by the fact that he’s got this constant conflict in his head.

He’s Seb’s dad, he wants him happy above everything else. He doesn’t give a fuck if that’s with a boy or a girl. 

But then he’s his dad’s son, he should know ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ and he’s letting him down in some sort of way. 

Inadvertently. Subconsciously. It still counts. 

Aaron has a hand on Robert’s chin and blows out heavily. “Right now you listen here, it’s not a flipping competition. You’ve come so far. So far.” He has tears in his eyes that fall and Robert matches him suddenly. “I fell in love with someone who was still staying he was straight, that I thought could never be with me properly, let alone marry me and have kids.” He shakes his head. “And now look at us.” He smiles shakily. “Look at you.”

Robert looks away and Aaron brings him back in, tenderly kisses him. “You’re the best daddy in the world.” 

Robert melts at that, he shivers and then shakes his head. “I love you.” He whispers, head tilted towards Aaron and then he hears Seb coming down the stairs. 

He looks between them and then frowns. “I didn’t think you’d be this upset.” He sounds so worried and Robert pulls away and starts rubbing at his eyes. 

“I’m not. We’re not. Of course we aren’t.” Robert smiles, “Come here.” He whispers, pats down on the sofa and Seb cautiously comes towards him. 

“You were crying.” Seb says. 

Aaron wriggles an eyebrow. “I’m always crying, keep up. How do you know Toy Story wasn’t playing huh?” 

Seb rolls his eyes, hides a smirk. “I’m not a kid.” 

“No.” Robert says suddenly, plays with Seb’s blonde hair, how it curls a little. “But you’re still our little boy, you’re growing up.” He says, and it startled him to think that Seb’s the same age he was when he was kissing a boy in his room and being excited about it. “Makes us a little emotional.” 

Seb bites at his lip, eyes flickering. “Is this about grandad again?” He must have heard, must have. 

He knows a little. Robert sat him down a few years ago and said that he didn’t really understand a lot of things because Vic had been talking about him loads and he was curious to know more and suddenly Robert was all emotional and he just had to explain why. 

Robert almost can’t speak so suddenly and he looks desperately towards Aaron.

“Just made your dad think about things.”

Seb sighs hard. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Don’t call Samantha Sam then.” Aaron teases and then he clears his throat as Robert keeps stroking Seb’s hair. “We love you so much.” He blurts out, something tight in his throat suddenly.

“I love you too.” Seb mumbles, getting all bright red. He’s Aaron with his feelings sometimes, he keeps them all hidden. 

Robert sniffs. “I’m sorry for being weird.”

“It’s not your fault.” Seb looks up at him. 

Robert doesn’t deserve his kindness. “You can be whoever you want.” He smiles faintly. “I’d still love you.”

Seb stays quiet for a second and then frowns. “Grandad didn’t like you liking blokes did he?” 

Robert sighs, he didn’t want any of the kids having memories tainted. It was bad enough telling Vic and Diane when he did and seeing their faces distort into something so sad. “Not really, no.” He whispers, he knows they can talk about this more when he’s a little older maybe, or maybe when it doesn’t hurt Robert so much.

Whichever comes first.

Aaron watches Seb’s face form a pout, a wave of something take over him. He looks annoyed, and then he shakes his head. “He was wrong.” He says. “It doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t have got dad if you wasn’t you.” 

And it makes Aaron get all teary again, and Robert feels something spread across his chest.

“Very true.” Robert mumbles against Seb’s hair. 

“Hmm, wise is our Seb.” Aaron smiles, big and wide and enough to get Seb rolling his eyes and laughing. 

“Shut up.” Seb says lightly and then he sighs. “So uh ... Samantha, she can come over then?” 

Robert looks towards Aaron and they both nod. 

“Yeah of course she can.” Robert says and Seb smiles shyly until his phone starts buzzing. 

“That her?” 

“Can I take it?”

Aaron pulls a face. “Just for a bit, it’s late.” 

Seb jumps up and gets to the stairs before he runs back and kisses at Robert’s head. It makes Robert pink and Aaron grins softly. 

“You’re the best.” Seb says and Aaron frowns. 

“Oi. I’m here too you know.” He says cheekily and Seb smiles.

“Love you too!” He says before jumping up the stairs, Robert catches him saying hello and it makes something flutter in his stomach. He sighs as he feels Aaron coming closer towards him, lays his head on Robert’s chest and pokes his head up to look at his husband. 

“See. You’re the best.” He says gently, he pushes himself up enough to press a kiss against Robert’s mouth. 

“So are you.” Robert whispers. “Come on, let’s go to bed yeah?”

Aaron nods, and then Annie’s crying on the monitor and Robert untangles himself, gets himself up the stairs and tends to Annie as Aaron gets ready in the bathroom. 

He feels something grow in his chest as Annie’s tiny finger holds onto his own. He feels like he’s got this, got ahold of something at least and it’s enough. 

It’s more than enough.