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A pick-me-up

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Robert stood at the kitchen counter, two mugs of tea steadily brewing, his brain trying to piece together exactly how the afternoon had gone downhill so rapidly.

Things had been awkward when Natalie had first arrived, sure, lots of stilted conversation and all too lengthy pauses. They'd expected nothing less beforehand, what they were asking her to consider doing for them was hardly a small favour after all, but they'd broken through at least some of the uncomfortable atmosphere over the course of the afternoon, drinks and general chitchat eventually lightening the mood.

Liv was a godsend, taking the meeting in her stride, and when she'd suggested breaking out the wedding album Robert couldn't believe he hadn't thought of such a small piece of brilliance himself. What better way to show Natalie what a loving family a new baby would be born into than photographs of some of the best memories Robert had? Natalie was particularly enamored of the professional photo they'd taken with Seb, eager to meet their youngest in person, overall things couldn't have gone much better up to that point.

Until Natalie had asked for details of Seb's surrogacy.

Things became a bit of a blur after that point. Robert trying to explain how Seb wasn't the result of surrogacy, Aaron trying to explain how it came to be that they had two wedding days a year and a half apart, both stumbling over each other as they tried to soften the events of time passed.

They had briefly discussed how they were going to approach the difficult subject of two years prior, finally agreeing that Natalie had a right to know about Aaron's time in prison and the subsequent fracturing of their family, but only once they were mutually certain that she was the one for them. Unfortunately, fate had different plans, and so Aaron had taken a deep breath and explained everything.

"Everything" had proven to be too much for their potential surrogate, who was quick to make her excuses and leave. Robert could hardly blame her, he supposed. As he stirred milk into his and his husband's drinks he thought back to the events of the previous week; Faith and Bear, with the best of intentions, creating the worst possible first impression, Natalie exposed to the.... eccentric extended family quite a while sooner than he and Aaron would have wanted. And now these bombshells. All in all, it had proven to be too much, and as Natalie left (fled) Mill cottage Robert could practically see their dreams of having another child disappear again too. He shook that particular ugly thought out of his head.

Right now, he had more pressing concerns.

Aaron was spiralling, Robert could see it. He'd hardly shifted from his seat on the couch, hunched over, eyes red, bothering the skin around his fingernails with his teeth. Liv had tried to comfort him but to no avail, and after a silent conversation with Robert, she left them downstairs. Robert was no stranger to the guilt Aaron laid at his own feet, and he loathed how a lifetime of suffering far more than anybody should suffer had left his husband susceptible to devastating bouts of blaming himself. So he steeled himself, and made his way over to him.

"Here, get that down your neck," he said, as he handed Aaron his tea and took a seat beside him. "Best brew in Yorkshire that, if I do say so myself."

Aaron merely sniffed, staring at the drink between his hands.

"You did the right thing, Aaron." Robert said softly, deciding to take the bull by the horns. "We said we were going to tell her eventually anyway and yeah, it could've gone better but at least we know now."

Aaron turned to look at him, eyes narrowed and accusatory.

"At least we know what, Robert? That we're never going to have a kid? Because that's exactly what I know. We don't have Seb because of me, we won't ever have another baby because of me, so yeah, I guess we do know!"

Robert sighed, he wasn't exactly surprised that that was the place Aaron's thoughts had taken him. He just hated it. He shifted a touch closer to his husband, as Aaron's gaze returned to his untouched drink.

"Aaron, look at me, please," and after a beat, Aaron's head turned, eyes finding Robert's. "She's not the one, and that's okay. We knew this was going to be difficult for us from the start. So we'll keep trying. We'll be at every possible meeting, schmooze every possible surrogate, however long it takes. And we'll find her, I promise."

Aaron laughed through his nose, shaking his head.

"Yeah, we'll find her, then it'll go exactly like today did. She'll find out I'm an ex-lag and she'll do a runner just like Natalie did. I told mum, you know. And Paddy! I told them this was a pipe dream, I was an idiot for thinking this would ever work out for us. When does stuff like this ever go right for me and you?"

This proved to be too much for Aaron, and the tears that had been threatening to fall since Natalie had left finally appeared, and Robert's heart broke.

He shifted closer still, wrapping an arm around Aaron's shoulders while taking his now cold tea, placing it on the coffee table. Aaron eventually leaned into the embrace, head leaning against Robert's shoulder, and there they sat for some time, silent but for the odd sniff as Aaron got himself back under control.

Eventually, Aaron gently pulled away from the embrace, wiping at his eyes, and Robert tried again.

"Aaron, listen to me. Natalie was never a done deal, there's any number of reasons why she might've decided against us. But it's not your fault, seriously."

Aaron laughed again, bitter and defeated.

"You saw her face when I told her what I was inside for."

"Yeah, and I also saw her face when I told her the truth about Seb. And I saw her face when we told her about Liv. I saw her face when we stuck her with your gran and grandad for the afternoon and I think that was the worst of all!"

This got a different laugh from his husband, a genuine laugh, and Robert's heart lifted at the sound.

"It was too much for her, and that's her call. We can't change who we are or where we've come from. But I'll tell you one thing; I've never been more proud of anybody than I am of you. Getting help after everything you went through. Putting yourself first for once, getting well. Becoming the most incredible dad to Seb. And I'm sorry she didn't get to see all that, but that's not your fault either. And don't ever blame yourself for him not being here, I'm as much to blame as anybody. And it's hard, but we'll get through it, because we're a team. Yeah?"

Aaron looked at Robert again, searching, and Robert held his gaze, willing the message to get through.

"Your taste in teammates is worse than your taste in furniture." Aaron finally said thickly, though smiling, much to Robert's relief.

"Careful, that's my husband you're talking about!" Robert replied, causing both of them to laugh easily.

"I meant what I said earlier you know," Robert continued, prompting a quizzical look from Aaron. "About it being love at first sight for me, it's true."

"Give over," Aaron laughed. "You just thought I was some scrubber trying to nick your car, proper fairytale that."

"Hindsight and all that," Robert replied simply. "Looking back, yeah. Something changed for me right from the start. I didn't know if we were going to end up mates or what but yeah, I knew you were something different. I wasn't pouring my heart out about Lawrence and... mum to just anybody you know."

Aaron continued to hold Robert's gaze, a small smile on his face.

"And obviously I thought you were unbelievably fit," Robert deadpanned. "No idea what's happened there like." he carried on, eyes raking Aaron's body, earning him a playful dig in the ribs. "And then you told me you were gay and, well, it's like things finally started slotting in to place. Like maybe I was meant to be back here after all."

"So that's why you spent a solid year running away from it." Aaron said, grinning.

"So that's why I spent a solid year running away from it." Robert echoed, laughing.

"But all of that brought us here. All the amazing times and all the disasters, all of it. You're the best part of me, Aaron. Have been since I met you. So yeah, love at first sight was real for me. And we'll get our baby eventually, I know it. Just promise me you'll be on my team, 'cause I'm terrified and I'll need you to be the strong one sometimes."

"I promise I'll try," Aaron replied solemnly, curling his hand round the nape of Robert's neck.

"You'll do for me then." Robert answered, smiling into his husband's kiss.

 

****

 

Liv crept downstairs a few hours after Natalie had left, hoping that Robert had managed to talk her brother round. They hadn't had a proper row, that much she knew. The priciest headphones didn't cancel those two out when they properly kicked off, she thought to herself smiling. Never a dull day in their weird little household, a family she loved more than she could say. She hated how the day had turned out after such a promising start, and as her thoughts drifted to her own business with Jacob, she knew she'd do whatever she could to help her brothers out. Anything. She just had to ignore the uneasy, constant feeling that she was very wrong.

She sighed as she finally made it to the sitting area, rounding the sofa with a exasperated but fond look on her face. She wasn't sure exactly when her brothers had become an Old Married Couple, but as she looked at them curled around each other on the sofa, fast asleep, Robert drooling into Aaron's hair, she knew that's exactly what they were. Barf.

She loved it.

She wasn't stupid though. Snapping a photo, she smiled at her newly acquired bribery material before heading back up to her room.

Never a dull day in their weird little household.