Aaron goes to Robert’s solicitor because of course he does.
It’s not that Robert doesn’t want his husband because of course he does, but he’s trying to protect Aaron in the only way he knows how; if he’s mad at Robert, if he hates him enough to want a divorce, he’s not taking it out on himself and maybe, just maybe, Aaron’ll move on and actually be happy.
That’s all Robert’s ever wanted.
Now he’s got his solicitor banging on about letting Aaron see him and what the fuck, this isn’t what Robert wants.
“Tell him no,” he says, because he’s trying to be a good husband. A good person.
Self-sacrificing asshole is what Victoria calls him.
Idiot, is Liv’s parting word and Chas won’t speak to him at all, so he supposes he knows how she feels.
Except Aaron doesn’t stop.
Huddled under the thin blanket on his bunk, ignoring the snoring of his cellmate, Robert curls his hand into a fist. He imagines he can feel the metal of his ring against his palm. He can’t even take that comfort, doesn’t have anything of Aaron’s because a clean break is best, right?
Not that a clean break’s ever worked. They couldn’t even break up right. Any time. Somehow, they always cycle back to each other but Robert’s chest aches when he thinks about what that means now;
Seb’ll almost be eighteen. Liv’ll be grown, have a family of her own, probably.
Robert’ll be approaching forty and god, he can’t do that to Aaron. Aaron shouldn’t want that, and Robert doesn’t know how to make him see.
“Stop,” Robert whispers into the phone.
“Robert,” Aaron snaps, and god, Robert closes his eyes, relishes the sound of his name on Aaron’s lips, even if it’s framed with anger. “What the fuck-”
“Please,” Robert says. “Stop.”
Fourteen years should be scary.
It is scary.
But Robert lost his mom at 14, spent 14 years trying to be something he wasn’t.
At some point, 14 stopped being scary and started becoming of course 14, why wouldn’t it be 14.
Sometimes, he likes to imagine what 14 years with Aaron would have felt like.
“I’m not divorcing you,” Aaron says.
Robert rests his forehead against the wall, swallows down the urge to say anything at all. The phone is a compromise because Robert knows eventually Aaron’ll get tired of it, will want his life back.
Aaron huffs a laugh. It’s awful. “You were never one for the silent treatment.”
I was one for murder though, weren’t I? Robert doesn’t say.
“I want to see you,” Aaron says eventually, and the tremble in his voice is hard enough to hear that Robert hangs up.
If Robert tries desperately enough, he can almost pretend he’s still in Emmerdale, living with his family, waking up splayed over Aaron, face buried in his collarbone.
If Robert’s feeling particularly destructive, he likes to pretend he’s someone else; that he’s a good enough person that Vic’s rape became about Victoria and not about her rapist.
If Robert’s hurting enough, he prays to a god he doesn’t believe in to take him back in time, just a few months, so that he can be better.
“I love ya,” Aaron says.
“I miss ya,” Liv writes.
“I hope you’re safe,” Vic lets him know.
Robert chokes on his own breath, buries his face in his pillow and tries not to scream.
“I’m a murderer,” he says into the mirror, hating the face staring back.
He’s not even thinking of Lee.
Sometimes Robert thinks his mental health is this river running through his life. It’s twisted, dipped, gone back on itself, and completely run off course throughout his life but it’s never dried up.
Lying in his prison cell, murderer ringing in his ears from other prisoners, and his husband’s constant pleas managing to dig their way under his skin and stay there, Robert thinks maybe there’s always a first time for a drought.
“I know you’re trying to protect him,” Chas says the next time Robert calls because Aaron’s not there.
“But he needs ya.”
“He won’t forever,” Robert says, voice hoarse. Lack of use, he thinks, or maybe just hurt.
“I’ve hated ya,” Chas says and Robert closes his eyes. He knows. “But you made me think maybe,” she continues, her voice breaking, “you were starting to be good for him again.”
Robert stares down at his shoes. God, he hates them. “I killed someone.”
“I know,” Chas says, because she does. “And I still let ya marry Aaron.”
God, Robert thinks, and clenches his hand into a fist. “I just want him to be happy.”
“Even if that’s still with you?”
Robert doesn’t know what to expect. He sits at the small table, hands splayed out in front of him, and all he can focus on is the fact that he doesn’t have his ring.
Metal clacks against metal and Robert’s breath catches in his throat.
“If you ever do that to me again,” Aaron says.
Robert lets out a sob, takes the ring in his hand and holds it tight enough that he’s probably making himself bleed.
“Robert,” Aaron whispers, and Robert meets his eyes, heart cracking open. “Please don’t.”
“I,” Robert starts. “I don’t know what to do.”
“i know,” Aaron says, and his eyes are red, wet, but he’s leaning across the table, touching Robert’s cheek. It’s intimate, perfect, and Robert’s leaning into the touch, taking everything Aaron’s willing to give.
“It’s fourteen years,” Robert says. “Maybe more.”
“I don’t fucking care.” Aaron’s voice carries a conviction that Robert doesn’t know what to do with. “Messed up forever, you said. Forever. Even if that means prison.”
Robert blows out a breath, takes Aaron’s hand in his own. “Promise me if you meet someone-”
“You said that before,” Aaron reminds him. “Didn’t work so well then and it won’t work now. Stop it.”
“I thought,” Robert says, “you’d be happier without me.”
“I’m not.” It’s a statement, true, unyielding. “I love ya, Robert Sugden, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“This is the Isle of Wight,” Robert reminds him.
“Maybe I’ll move,” Aaron says eventually, and he’s got that look in his eyes, dangerous and that something that drew Robert in from the very first day.
“Liv, and Seb,” Robert protests.
“That’s my problem, innit?” Aaron squeezes Robert’s hand. “Let me back in, Rob, and we can make it.”
Somewhere, Robert thinks maybe rain is breaking that drought. “I’m sorry. I want - I need you.”
Aaron’s smile is sad but honest. “I’m here.”
14 isn’t such a scary number.
Maybe the 14 years after will be even better than every 14 that’s ever come before.
Robert’s got hope and maybe that’s enough.