Aaron’s head was banging. He never realized how bright the Woolpack was until this very moment. He took a sip of his beer recognizing that it probably would have been a better idea to have coffee or a water.
Oh well. Too late now.
He’s been so tired lately, everything getting on top of him, making him feel buried and lost and angry. It started with the haulage firm’s losses then the surrogacy plans being put on hold indefinitely and it’s just spiraled from there.
Opening his eyes to face the bright lights again, he sees his mum coming from the back room, huge smile splitting her face. She’s already got that glow people talk about. Aaron was so excited to find out his mum was expecting again. Excited. Terrified, of course. The fear that something would go wrong and devastate his family again a constant thought in the back of his mind. He really didn’t think his mum could survive another loss like that.
But as Aaron picked at the label of his beer, he had to admit that the sinking feeling in his gut, the one that’s kept him up for the last few weeks, that allows quiet tears to fall, isn’t the fear for his baby sister or mum.
Aaron rubbed his eyes, willing the tears that were forming there away. It wasn’t right. How dare he feel jealous? His mum and Paddy were amazing and should have the happy, healthy baby they’ve dreamed of.
But Aaron wants. And wants. And wants.
He dreams of a little girl. A little girl with dark hair and blue eyes. Quiet and shy but confident and articulate. A little girl who inherits his looks but has all of the best parts of Robert.
Aaron knows he a pessimist. He also knows that he’s realistic and that dream just isn’t happening.
When he’s thinking clearly he knows that part of all the pain is the empty space inside that once held Seb. They visit him but it’s nowhere near as often as they thought it would be or as easy as they had hoped. He and Robert have played the game just as they were supposed to; bending to every request Rebecca and Ross make but sometimes it feels like they’re being made the fools. They’ve missed so many milestones and have been left out of so many opportunities, each one breaking their hearts a bit more.
About a month ago, Aaron had come home from the scrapyard to find Robert practically in tears at their kitchen table. Ross had texted a photo of Seb in a pool with a little medal around his neck . They had gotten him swim lessons and he graduated from his group to go to the next level. The gym where Seb takes the classes made a big deal out of it, some kind of adorable baby moving up ceremony.
They didn’t even know he was taking lessons. Forget being invited to the classes or the graduation.
So that’s how it’s been. Missing out on opportunities to be with Seb and celebrate his accomplishments. Dreaming of a baby they’ll never have. Missing his husband because all he can do now is work to try to pay the bills.
No wonder his brain is trying to exit his body through his eyes.
Through his self-loathing, he feels a hand rubbing circles into his back. A small comfort .
“Are you okay? You don’t look good.” Robert’s voice is soft and concerned.
Aaron looks up and gives the most half-hearted smile of his life. “Yep,” he says. Feels the bitterness and frustration rolling off of his tongue. “Doing great! This is the first time I’ve seen you in almost two days it seems, I’m watching mum celebrate her pregnancy while stupidly wishing it was us and I can’t remember what Seb sounds like when he says dada. Not that he’ll be calling us that anytime soon since he we see him so little he won’t know who the hell we are!”
He felt the angry tears fill his eyes, not just for his own pain but for the pain he sees cross his husband’s face. Logically he knows Robert feels as much loss as he does but he can’t be rational right now. He’s so tired and he hurts and it’s too much.
Aaron hangs his head in shame for a second, regretting not just walking away. Taking a deep breath, he stands up, kissing Robert softly and whispers “I’m sorry” against his lips before walking back home. Maybe if he just sleeps a little he’ll be able to think clearly.
He’ll apologize again after that.
When Aaron wakes up it’s dark outside. He rubs his eyes and stretches out. He’s grateful for the sleep even if he doesn’t feel much better for it.
The house is silent around him so he checks his phone finding a text from Robert.
Late meeting with a client. I’m sorry but don’t wait up. Please eat something and sleep. I love you xoxo
Aaron smile s . He missed Robert but he had to admit, Robert’s ferocity and dedication to rebuilding the haulage was admirable. And lord knows they need the money.
He got himself out of bed, not bothering to turn on the lights. He padded down the stairs to find Liv with the TV on but her head in her books.
He was so proud of her. Coming back from so much shit and doing so well. He wasn’t naïve enough to take all the credit but he’d like to think he supported her, made her feel like she could do whatever she wants and she knew he’d be there anytime she needed him .
Aaron ruffled her hair as he passed, deciding to just have some toast and water and go back to bed. He chatted with Liv briefly, letting her vent about one of her instructors and how boring he is. They said goodnight and Aaron headed back up to bed. He grabbed his husbands pillow and held it close. It held his scent, helping to quench some of the longing he was feeling.
Robert could always bring him back when the sadness was threatening to take over. He just wanted his husband to hold him for a while .
Aaron had been dreaming. It was warm and the sun was shining. He and Robert were on his beach, the waves crashing lightly onto the sand, the smell of salt and sun cream in the air. His husband looked like a work of art. Golden tan, abs pulled taught, legs for days. And in his strong arms was Seb, laughing as the water splashed his legs. Robert would pull him out of the water at the last second as a wave came in just to put him right back in the cool water again . Both of Aaron’s boys were smiling and laughing, Seb’s red hair shining in the afternoon light. Robert had just beckoned him over with the call of “come play with us, daddy” as something jolted Aaron out of his dream.
Did someone just hit him?
Refusing to open his eyes, desperately trying to get back to his dream, he felt a pressure on his chest and then another smack to his face, this one sloppier, poking his thankfully closed eye, hitting his nose and cheek again too. The sound that followed was worth the sting.
“That’s right, Seb . Dada’s being lazy. Hit him again! Say dada. Dada wake up!”
“ Dada! Dada! Dada!”
Aaron has no shame in a dmitting the sound brought tears to his eyes and a smile to his face. He opened his eyes coming face to face with a seemingly much older, but still perfect, Seb .
He brought Seb in for a cuddle, smothering him in kisses, causing the little boy to screetch and laugh. Aaron sat up in the bed just looking at Seb’s face. He was so glad he was here.
“What’s he doing here, Rob?” Aaron was almost afraid of the answer.
“So yesterday in the pub...” Robert began causing Aaron to groan. He covered Seb’s ears and said, “I was an asshole. I’m sorry.”
Robert just chuckled. “Maybe a bit but I’m used to it after all these years.” Aaron smiled and kissed Seb on the head, the little boy starting to drift off to sleep.
“So anyway,” Rob continued. “Yesterday in the pub, after you left, Charity approached me. She heard you go off on one and she said she wanted to talk to me.”
Aaron knew that Rob and Charity were getting closer, almost friendly, but that was still odd.
“She started off by apologizing which is never a good thing coming from Charity.” Aaron couldn’t help but nod his head. “She said she knew we’d been struggling without Seb but she didn’t realize we were being kept from seeing him. She’s been having a hard time with Ross, too, I guess. They threaten to keep Moses for longer than planned and throw her mistakes in her face. Nice s tuff like that.”
Aaron nodded again but had no idea where this was going. “Okay, but why did she apologize to you? What did she do?”
Robert sighed and brushed his fingers through Seb’s hair. “It’s more like what she didn’t do.”
After a pause Rob continued. “She found out, even before Ross and Rebecca left, that Ross was having some problems with drugs. I guess he was abusing painkillers, which in all fairness makes sense considering what he went through.”
Aaron’s mouth hung open. He could have empathy but still be pissed his jail time was being held against him while a guy who abused drugs and, not to mention, fucking shot his husband, got custody of his kid.
“That’s bullshit! I can’t believe she didn’t tell us!”
Robert shushed Aaron, Seb stirring slightly in his sleep.
“Apparently before they left he was clean. HIs pain was better and he’d put Moses in danger or something so I guess that sobered him up.”
Aaron was ready to lose his mind. “He put Moses in danger and then got Seb !? What the fuck Rob?” Aaron was screaming in a whisper as not to disturb Seb but it was getting difficult to stay anywhere near calm.
“Aaron just let me finish the story, okay? Jesus.”
Aaron pouted but relented.
“So I thanked Charity and headed to Liverpool yesterday. I’m sorry I lied but I didn’t have a late meeting. I went to confront Rebecca and Ross.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Rob? I would have gone with you.” Aaron was a bit disappointed he’d missed the chance to support his husband.
And maybe deck Ross in the face.
Robert huffed out a laugh. “You’d be able to stay calm with them? Have a conversation?” He leveled a look at Aaron.
Aaron just rolled his eyes. He hated when his husband was right.
“So anyway, when I got there, they were rude as per but I got them to listen. I said I knew about Ross abusing the meds and that he’d put Moses in harms way. I also knew a few people who would back those statements up. Once I knew they were listening, I was able to begin negotiations.”
Aaron furrowed his brow. “I know that face. What did you do?”
Robert just smiled. “ Seb and I have a present for you.”
He dug into his dressing gown and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Aaron passed a still sleeping Seb to Robert and took the paper, slowly opening it up. The tears were instant.
I, Rebecca White, agree to split custody of Sebastian White with Robert Sugden -Dingle and Aaron Sugden -Dingle. Seb will live with Robert and Aaron weekdays and visit at least twice monthly on weekends with myself and Ross Barton. If any party wishes to have special visitation or visiting days changed, it will be discussed between Rebecca, Robert and Aaron only. All parties will be kind and respectful when discussing Seb and any scheduling changes.
Aaron looked up. “So what does this mean? It’s not legal, right?”
Robert nodded. “Not technically legal but it’s kind of binding. If they go back on it now, we have proof of an agreement. It wouldn’t be good for Rebecca’s case.” Robert was clearly proud. “I don’t plan on being a dick about this. If they want to have him a few more days or have him stay longer, that’s fine, but no more of this jumping through hoops nonsense. He’s our kid, too, and we get an equal say and an equal part in his life.”
Aaron nodded, completely blown away. He leaned into Rob, kissing Seb on the head. He whispered, “hear that, mate? You’re coming home.” Robert pulled Aaron in with his free arm, kissing Aaron’s temple.
“I love you, Aaron. We’re gonna be alright.”
Aaron smiled. “I know. I love you more.”
With his husband trying to subtly sniff back his tears while cuddling their son, Aaron realized, life was pretty great sometimes.