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Keeping the monsters away

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Aaron is pissed off on most days, but today he‘s extra pissed off. 

After he overslept this morning, he was in such a hurry that he burnt his hand at his favourite mug - causing said favourite mug to slip through his fingers to crash into hundreds of little pieces and spill his coffee all over his kitchen floor. And the cupboards. And his clothes. 

Cleaning up that mess cost him another 15 minutes, so he actually had to run (Ugh, for fucks sake!) to his Golf - only to find out his baby wouldn‘t start. 

So Aaron was forced to take the bus to get to work and now he is so spectacularly late he knows he will get a major bollocking from Wise.

All in all the day is ruined already.

He swings the door open and enters the building. The police station is filled with the typical noises you’d expect, phones are ringing, people are talking, it‘s a busy hum that‘s constantly there during the dayshift. 

Aaron walks to his desk and starts his computer. Two spectacled eyes gauge him over the brim of the monitor. 

“You‘re late,“ Finn says.

Aaron rolls his eyes. They teamed him up with Finn Barton right after he started at Hotten Police, and Aaron is convinced it’s just to punish him for carrying ‘Dingle’ as a last name. Their desks are facing each other, it‘s standard amongst teams, to pass information quick and easy. 

“No shit, Sherlock. Observation skills like a hawk. Gonna make an outstanding DI, Barton,“ Aaron deadpans and gives him a thumbs up. 

Finn shoots him a sour look and continues to read whatever is on his screen. Can‘t be anything serious, because they don‘t have a case at the moment and Aaron is frustrated to no end.

Entering the force with his name is a burden and he was aware from day one. The Dingles had - and have - their regular run-ins with the cops. His uncle Cain is on first name base with the Chief of Police, Jason Wise - they have history. Some of his family members already spent time inside.

A Dingle who wants to be a cop? That was unheard of.

Aaron is determined to prove all those arseholes wrong, who judge him only by his name. He can be a good cop, he knows it. He just needs a proper case to prove himself. 

“Dingle! Barton! Office! Now!“

The boss‘ booming voice shouts across the room. Heads fly in their direction and Aaron sees some malicious smirks. Dingle’s in the doghouse, their faces say and Aaron swallows. 

“Am I in trouble now as well, just because you were late?“ Finn whines next to him as they walk to Jason Wise‘s office.

“Don‘t wet your pants,“ Aaron grits out grumpily. 

He will take the full blame, of course he will. Finn is an idiot, but it‘s really not his fault that Aaron came in late. 

Entering Wise‘s room is like entering another world. All the policemen share an open space office with small cube farms under bright neon lamps.

The Chief of Police‘s office is all dark wood with grey leather chairs and soft light. There are no piles of papers, no extra huge computer monitor, no gigantic whiteboard with pictures of suspects - nothing of the stuff you would suspect after you watched too many crime series on Netflix. 

But still, the bloke is always top informed about everything that‘s going on in and around Hotten, he’s got his eyes and ears everywhere. How he does that, Aaron will never understand. 

“Aaron, Finn. Close the door and have a seat,“ he says in lieu of greeting - and without looking up from the single white paper in his hands. 

They sit down quietly, there is a strange tension in the room and nervousness takes ahold of Aaron.

While the boss is reading whatever is written on that paper, they just wait quietly. Finn looks like he‘s having a heart attack any second. 

“I called you in, because I have a job for you…“ Jason starts and is finally looking up at them.

“What? Thank you, sir! We thought this was about Aaron being late!“ Finn bursts out.

“Shut up, you grass,“ Aaron hisses at him through gritted teeth. 

Honestly, it‘s a miracle how this idiot passed his probationary period! Aaron wants to strangle him. Jason Wise narrows his eyes at them and then at Aaron in particular.

“No,“ the old man says slowly, “is that an issue I should be worried about?“ He presses his lips together.

They shake their heads like little school boys who got told off by their teacher and Aaron squirms on his seat. Wise said something about a case, he‘d rather talk about that!

Their boss clears his throat. “Well then. Let‘s focus on this task ahead. Before we start I‘ll have to warn you, it is a delicate subject that we are facing here. Everything that will be said inside this room, stays in this room. Understood?” They nod and Aaron wonders, where this is going. “We got a call this morning, someone made a complaint about being stalked,” Wise continues.

Aaron perks up his ears. A potential stalker! That sounds interesting. Deep down he knows it’s wrong, getting excited about other people’s misery, but he can’t stop the anticipation that starts gripping his body immediately. He can see it already, interrogations, observations, catching the stalker in the act...and finally, fucking finally his colleagues would have to admit that he is a good cop!

“The caller is a man called Robert Sugden and I want you two to drive to him and speak to him,“ Jason says, “be very questioning and record everything he says.“

Aaron frowns at that. As far as he sees it, Robert Sugden is a potential victim, not a crime suspect. It seems hardly fair to treat him like one.

“Sir, you said this is a delicate case,“ Finn frowns, “why?“

Wise pauses and pushes the paper across his table, Aaron grabs it and holds it for Finn to read as well.

Robert Sugden , 29 years old, father of Sebastian (5 years old).

He skims the lines on the file and then he sees the name of the alleged stalker.

Aaron swallows, still staring at the name. A bad, bad feeling settles in his chest, tugging at his heart.

Rebecca White.

Surely it‘s a coincidence, he tries to tell himself. White is a common family name. It‘s basically like Smith or something. 

“Robert Sugden…“ Jason starts, “incriminates Lawrence White‘s daughter to be a psychotic stalker.“ Aaron’s heart sinks when he hears the name of the man. “If this makes it into the news, it’ll blow up in our faces,” Wise adds.

Because Lawrence White practically is the news. It is his nickname even, Mr News. He is a powerful man, he owns two of the five biggest media companies in the country, including the biggest newspaper, a TV channel and various homepages. His connections in economy and politics are legendary. He throws three charity events every year and just donated that much money to a children‘s hospice, they even named a new building after him. Rumours say the Queen will knight him soon. Basically, Lawrence White is a saint and so are his daughters, Chrissie and Rebecca. 

Aaron swallows and looks up into the eyes of his chief. Wise lets out a quiet sigh and Aaron knows they‘re fucked. 

 

— — —

 

Finn reads the sheet over and over as if somehow the little information they have so far would change. He looks just as miserable as Aaron feels. 

“What do we know about White?,” he finally asks.

Aaron is sitting on his chair, his head is leaning on the backrest and he stares at the ceiling. He rattles down what sprang to his mind earlier. 

His partner puts the file aside, walks around the table to Aaron’s side of the cubicle and leans against Aaron’s messy desk. Behind his back a pile of papers slowly slides to the side before they are falling down on the floor. Aaron isn’t arsed about it. 

“I heard he is best friends with the mayor and plays golf with the Commissioner every Sunday,“ Finn says with a hushed voice so the others can’t hear him. His eyes look huge behind his thick glasses. Aaron scoffs, of course White has connections to the highest police ranks in the country. 

“Fan-fucking-tastic,” he mutters. “Do we know anything about the daughter? Rebecca?“ he asks Finn and takes a pen.

“She‘s 26, doesn‘t have a real profession as far as I know. Did a few internships at daddy‘s companies, she also was in the media when she worked as a DJ in Ibiza. She’s a bit of a black sheep of the family… are you even listening?!” Finn pouts.

The pen that has been carefully balanced between Aaron‘s nose and upper lip drops down on the floor. 

“Course,“ he says frowning.

He totally was listening. Black sheep, noted. 

His mind wanders back to Sugden. Without a doubt the lad must know whose leg he was pissing on with this allegation. 

So either he must have a death wish - or he is really desperate. 

 

__ __ __

 

Robert Sugden lives in a townhouse on the edge of London. It‘s a lovely neighbourhood, quiet, kidsfriendly, where mostly academics and people with upper class income live. Everything is clean and the little front yards look perfect.

Aaron switches the motor off and takes a look around. He is kinda curious to meet the man who wants to take on the Whites.

He and Finn walk to the house in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. The bell rings with a little melody that would Aaron drive insane after the second time he heard it. 

He really isn‘t prepared when the door opens to see the world's most stunning man.

Robert Sugden is tall and slim, his sharp jaw could definitely slice bread, the lips are lush and they‘re coming along with a cute nose and the greenest eyes Aaron has ever seen.

Right in that moment, a cloud passes and the sun appears again, shining straight down at Sugden, making him glow. Somewhere up in heaven angels are singing a hallelujah.

Aaron can see freckles, loads of them all over his face. 

He feels dazzled, like he walked against a wall and hit his head.

Slowly Aaron realises that Robert Sugden and Finn are looking at him, like they expect him to say something.

“Mr. Sugden, we are here to investigate after you made a report about getting stalked,” Aaron states and wills his voice to sound steady and strong.

“I already said that part,” Finn hisses and Robert Sugden looks at him with a wild mixture of irritated and amused. 

Aaron really can’t remember for the life of him hearing Finn saying anything and his cheeks start burning uncomfortably.

“I am DS Barton and that’s my colleague DS Dingle,” Finn says, “May we come in?”

“Sure,” Sugden says and steps aside, so they can go in.

Aaron takes a few breaths to sharpen his senses again and looks around. A house can tell you a lot about the people that are living in it. 

They are walking straight into the living room, which is actually a combination between an open kitchen, dining area and TV corner. The walls are painted in dark blue, but the furniture is mostly white and grey. The only blur of colours are three big boxes with kids toys right next to the brown leather couch. It looks damn homey. Nice. Like this Robert Sugden has definitely good taste. 

He gestures for them to sit down on the couch and takes the armchair. Now, without the bright sunlight, Aaron notices the rings under the man’s tired green eyes, like he hasn’t properly slept in days.

Finn pulls out his phone and lays it on the coffee table, “We would like to record this conversation for further investigations, if you agree.”

Robert eyes the phone and swallows. “Yeah, fine.”

Finn starts to record. “Mr Sugden agreed to the recording of his statement. Can you please tell us why you called the police?”

“Because Rebecca White is a complete nutcase, that’s why!” Sugden spits out angrily. 

Aaron raises his eyebrows, a little impressed if he‘s honest. So, the guy is definitely not holding back, obviously not being scared of the name White in the slightest. 

“Just tell us what happened.” 

That is Finn’s true talent, soothing the people. He is good at that. With his nerdy attitude he looks like the nice bloke from your friendly neighbourhood and people relax in his presence and start opening up.

Aaron's part is to just silently sit there, trying to take in every tiny movement, every tiny hesitation, every tiny discrepancy in the statement. Observing. 

“It started about a year and a half ago,” Robert Sugden sighs and rubs his face, “I got letters. Not normal letters with a stamp and a postmark on it, just single papers that were pushed through under my door. At first I didn’t think much of it - I just thought it was weird. But then they kept coming and it was what they said, that freaked me out.”

“What did they say?”

“They commented about Seb’s - my son’s - clothes. That they loved his green shirt, or that those shorts would look so cute on him.” He takes a deep breath. “And then a note came, telling me, I shouldn’t give him too much ice cream, because it wouldn’t be good for his health. The letter came right after a day where we went shopping and I bought him ice cream. And that means, she was watching us, right? I knew immediately she was watching us! While I was with my boy, she was lurking somewhere in the bushes and watched us.” Sugden’s face goes hard, his voice is shaking with anger. He swallows. “And then… it suddenly stopped.”

“But that wasn’t the end?” Finn asks gently.

The blond man slouches back in his chair. “No, of course not. About two months later, it started again. This time, she laid a toy on my doorstep and of course Seb found it. It was a stupid firetruck from Fireman Sam, he loved it and wanted to keep it and I couldn’t say no to him. And then I got a card, telling me how beautiful he would play with his new toy and I lost it. I mean, he only used it inside our house! How could she know that? Was she hiding outside and looking through our windows? I sold the house and moved to Stockport and I really thought it would stop then.”

Sugden keeps telling them a story of how the notes appeared again . Of how he moved again into this neighbourhood - due to work this time - and how after a few months the letters came in again . Always without stamps and postmarks, so wherever they moved, the stalker followed. There was no escape from this endless circle.

“I’m tired. I’m just so tired. Seb is five, he’s going to school now, I can’t keep doing this to him,” he finishes with a sigh.

Aaron watches him closely. He has to admit that Sugden looks truly miserable. 

“Have you spoken to the police before about this, Mr Sugden?” Finn wants to know.

“Oh yeah,” Robert Sugden laughs humorlessly, “I did. Right after the Fireman Sam toy. I called the station and explained what happened, but after I mentioned Rebecca White, they said it wasn’t enough to investigate.” He scoffs. “They said, the stalker didn’t actually threaten us. Apparently something bad needs to happen first. A few weeks later I lost my job, although I never did anything wrong. Well, I shouldn‘t have been surprised, should I - since Lawrence owns 30% share of the company.“

Robert Sugden smiles, but his expression is ice cold. Aaron and Finn are sharing a look. So Lawrence White knows about Robert Sugden and his allegations already and obviously the old man already tried to scare him off. Not very successful, Aaron thinks. 

“How can you be so sure it’s Rebecca?” he speaks up for the first time since they entered the house.

“I just know it. It’s her, “Sugden insists, “She hates my guts because I got full custody of Seb.”

“Tell us about your relationship with her, please?“ Finn says. 

“We never were in a relationship, not really.“ Robert Sugden sighs and runs his hands through his hair. “It was an on and off thing, no strings attached. The pregnancy wasn‘t planned, she wanted an abortion. I convinced her to give birth and let me have the baby.“ Sugden pauses, looking into the distance, lost in memories. “Best decision I ever made.“ He‘s smiling again.

Aaron ignores the way his chest warms at the sight, especially when there is one streak of the blond hair standing off in an awkward angle. 

“Why would she want Seb now? When she gave him away in the first place?“ he asks. 

“I know how it sounds, okay?” Sugden says exasperated. “She never wanted him, why would she want him now? Believe me, I asked myself the same question more than once. And I don’t know, okay?” He throws his hands up in frustration. “I don’t know. But I know it’s her.”

“Is there really no one else - someone from work, another ex, anyone - who would have a motive besides Rebecca White?” Finn wants to know.

Seb’s father swallows again, then he shakes his head. 

“Robert Sugden shook his head,” Finn says aloud for the audio recording.

“Do you still have all the letters?” Aaron wants to know. “We need to see them.“

Maybe there is DNA or fingerprints on them. 

Robert gets up wordlessly and goes over to the kitchen. He opens a drawer, pulls something out and comes back to the sofa corner with several letters and holds them out for Aaron to take them. 

Fuck, so much for fingerprints and DNA then, Aaron curses, there will be only Robert’s all over it. He snaps his fingers towards Finn and his partner springs to action. Barton always has a package of rubber gloves in his shoulder bag. Aaron pulls them on and grabs the papers eagerly. 

You look tired, you should sleep more.

I like his new bike, he’s doing so well. Can’t believe how fast he’s growing.

Did he like the new Disney movie? He really loved that little plushie you bought him, didn’t he?

Have you already looked for schools? His education is very important.

And it went on like that. The notes all were typed on a computer and printed out. No handwriting, nothing that would give anything away about the stalker. He shares a look with Finn who is reading them as well.

Anybody could have written the notes. 

This came this morning,” Sugden says quietly and Aaron turns his head.

He tries not to stare at the long, nimble fingers that are holding up a plastic zipper bag, like the ones you use when you travel with a plane. He focuses on the content of the little bag. There is a photo in it. 

“Plastic bag, nice,” he hums when he takes it carefully. 

Maybe they have a chance to get some evidence with this item!

Robert gives him a crooked smile. “I watched a few real-crime-shows lately. Learned my lesson about DNA and all. I haven’t touched it, I used tweezers.“

“What is it?” Finn pipes up, peeping on the little bag.

Aaron squints his eyes. “A picture… of a nursery?!”

There is a small bed, plushies, lego, books, cars, a little table with crayons and paper, Fireman Sam posters on the wall - everything a five year old is dreaming off. 

“Turn around, there is a letter as well,” Sugden says, voice flat.

Aaron does and there is a note indeed, written on a computer like the others. “What do you think? I hope Seb likes it. We’ll find out soon,” he reads out loud. 

A cold shiver runs down his spine. According to this note they are planning to take the boy and bring him there - wherever there may be. He looks up to Robert Sugden, into those green eyes who are clouded with sadness.

“She wants to take him,” his voice cracks and so does his facade.

The angry demeanor, the cocky aggressiveness is completely gone, now he just looks exhausted. Defeated. This is a dad, scared and worried for his kid. 

Coming from a huge family with many nieces and nephews, Aaron can only imagine how the poor lad must feel. 

“We will take the evidence with us and check if there are usable traces on it,” Finn explains and carefully puts the zip bag as well as the other papers away. 

They stop the recording. Instead of getting up and leaving, all three of them are sitting there in silence. Aaron lets it all sink in. The picture in the zipper is their only hope, besides they don’t have much - except Robert Sugden’s statement. 

Aaron looks at the man again. He doesn’t come across like someone who just wants to take revenge against an ex. It doesn’t seem very likely either, the price of drawing Lawrence White’s anger and losing his job is too high. No, Sugden is honestly convinced that it’s Rebecca. 

“Look, I know who Lawrence White is,” the man sighs in that moment as if he could read Aaron’s thoughts, “but I can’t keep silent because his name scares me off.”

The green eyes land on Aaron’s face and there is something so intense in that look, like Sugden can dive straight down in his soul, it’s unsettling. Aaron squirms on the sofa and lowers his eyes quickly. 

Sugden is a witness, you are a cop, Aaron reminds himself, while he tries to prevent his heart from speeding up. 

He sees Sugden looking at his watch out of the corners of his eye.

“I err, have to pick up Seb from school, so if you don’t have any more questions…?” he starts and gets up from the armchair. 

Finn and Aaron are standing up, too, shaking their heads.

“We’re going to call you,” Finn promises.

On their way to the door they pass a chimney. Before he can stop himself, Aaron glances at the pictures on top. The photos show mostly Robert, a dark haired woman, who is about Aaron’s age and a little boy with red hair.

“That Seb?” he asks and steps closer to the fireplace. 

It can’t hurt to know what the little boy looks like for their further investigation. He’s got blue eyes and freckles and a bright grin. Definitely a little troublemaker. The face makes Aaron smile a bit. 

“Yeah, that’s him,” Sugden says with a soft voice.

He is suddenly very close to Aaron, his breath is ghosting hot over the back of his neck and causes Aaron to shiver. 

“He’s very cute, Mr Sugden,” he admits with a little nod. 

Aaron never gave much thoughts about having kids. Having kids requires a gay man like him having a boyfriend, a long-term partner, and on that front he suffers a massive slack. 

Looking at these pics though, seeing how Robert Sugden is laughing happily into the camera with his son on his hips, makes him ache. Aaron loves his nieces and nephews, he really does, but… they are not his, are they? When he’s looking after them, they always go home to their parents after a few hours, leaving him alone in his apartment again. 

He wonders if the woman with the brown hair is Sugden‘s current girlfriend, at least she seems to be close with the boy who is holding hands with her in one snapshot. In either case the three of them look happy and domestic. Like a cute little family. 

“Mr Sugden was my dad,” the man pulls him out of his thoughts, “call me Robert, please.”

“Alright, Robert,” Aaron says, loving how the name sounds, and turns around.

Robert is so close they could almost kiss. Dammit, if he would have met him in a club or somewhere, maybe Aaron would have made a move. Those freckles are mesmerizing. The atmosphere is slowly shifting around them, getting thicker somehow. Aaron feels himself staring into Robert’s face, but he is powerless to stop it. Not only his cheeks are heating up, his whole body flushes with a sudden burn. 

Somewhere Finn clears his throat and that breaks the tension eventually. 

“Call us, if you notice anything, see someone following you, or if you receive another letter. And please try not to touch it,” his partner instructs Robert, who’s nodding along.

Aaron quickly pulls out his card and a pen from the pocket of his jacket.

“Yeah, err… call us. Anytime,” he says and writes his private mobile number right below his official one. 

He hands it to Robert and ignores Finn’s huge eyes. Aaron is aware that he’s never done this before. That there is no real need to, on the card is his official mobile number and the station is available 24/7 of course. Aaron swallows and is dreading that talk with his partner on the way to the station already. 

“Thanks, Mr Dingle,” Robert smiles.

“Just Aaron is fine,” Aaron says before his brain stops him.

He bites his tongue. He never offered his first name during work. Finn’s jaw falls open and he gasps in disbelief at him. Aaron ducks his head and makes his way to the door. The air is sticky suddenly and he can’t get out quick enough. He basically shoves his partner through the door.

“You’ll hear from us,” Finn shouts over his shoulder and Aaron turns around for one last quick glance at Robert Sugden.

He is standing in the door frame, the crisp white shirt accentuating his slim torso, the rolled up sleeves showing off strong arms. The sun is out again, sparkling on the blond hair. Aaron meets Robert’s eyes again and he can’t stop the buzz he’s feeling in his stomach. 

Fuck, this is bad, Aaron curses himself when he looks to the front again. Robert Sugden is a witness, he is a policeman, he repeats in his head. 

As soon as they are in the car, Finn shakes his head. “I don’t believe you!“ he flails his arms.

“Shut up.” Aaron starts the engine.

“Flirting with Sugden?” Finn goes on.

“I said, shut up,” he hisses annoyed.

“Giving him your private-”

“I said. Shut. Up.” Aaron gives his partner a long, warning glare. One more word and Barton would have to bloody walk back to the station. 

He doesn’t want to discuss this with Finn. Not when he got no real answer himself. He doesn’t know why he gave Robert his phone number, he doesn’t know why it is important that Robert calls him by his first name. 

He doesn’t know.

His eyes dart back to the little house, where Robert is still standing on the threshold and looks in their direction. 

Aaron swallows and puts his foot down.

 

-- -- --

 

“... check if there are usable traces on it,” Finn’s voice is sounding through Jason Wise’s office.

Then the recording stops. 

Wise put his elbows on the armrest and had his hands folded right before his nose. As soon as he started listening he closed his eyes to concentrate, now he is opening them, looking at Finn and Aaron. 

The letters and the plastic bag are lying on his desk.

“What do you think?” their Chief of Police wants to know.

“We think that the letters and the picture are real. There is someone out there, watching the Sugden’s. A five year old boy might be in danger and we can’t rule out the possibility that his mother might be responsible at that point,” Finn summarizes it. 

Wise hums and then he scoffs. 

“White has the best lawyers in the country,” he informs them.

Aaron has never met Lawrence White before - or Rebecca for that matter - but boy, does he hate that bloke already. 

“If his precious daughter got nothing to hide, he won’t need them, right?” Aaron shrugs.  

Jason Wise sighs and nods finally. “Alright then. This goes to the forensics now,” he takes the zip bag. “I expect you to inform me about every step you are taking, are we clear? No solo stunts!”  

They nod and get up from their chairs, sensing that this is the end of the conversation.

“So, what does that mean? What are we doing next?” Finn asks him as soon as the busy hum of the open plan office is surrounding them again.

Finally they have a case and he is determined to not let this go, until they catch the stalker. Just like Robert said, he isn’t scared of the big name and the army of lawyers.

A dark grin starts spreading on Aaron’s face. 

“Now, Finn,” Aaron declares and slaps Barton’s shoulder which causes him to stumble, “we’re gonna stir shit up.”

 

Chapter Text

It’s the time of the day Robert hates the most. He’s ready to jump out of his own damn skin, because it’s itching everywhere and he’s sweating through his shirt in his jacket. Turning the AC as cold as possible, he tries to remind himself of those relaxation techniques he read about online. He wiggles back into the seat of his Porsche and takes a deep breath, holds it, counts to three, then exhales. 

And again.

And again.

His brain is trying to force his muscles to relax, but his body won’t comply. Just when he digs his fingers into his thighs until they hurt, he hears the bell ringing and he lets out a shaky breath. It takes another two minutes of the clock on his dashboard torturing him until the school doors open and the first kids are running out. Robert cranes his neck immediately to check the crowd for Seb, but his boy is never one the quickest. Bless, he’s a little dreamer and although Robert finds that endearing, he also hates it, because it means he has to wait longer until his son finishes packing and putting his jacket on. 

Technically he knows Seb is safe in school - since Robert brings him right to his classroom in the morning and awaits him afterwards to pick him up. Besides, the school would call him if the kid went missing. But still. 

Panic is hardly ever rational. The panic of a scared parent definitely never is.

Finally, fucking finally, he spots the blue jacket and the fire red hat amongst the children and Robert sighs deeply, the relief almost making him dizzy and light headed. He sags into the seat, all the tension rushing out of his body and suddenly he’s so exhausted, he could take a nap then and there. 

The back door opens and Seb climbs in. “Daddy, daddy! You won’t believe what Ms Kutcher did with us today…”

Robert barely has the chance to greet his son as the words are spilling out of him like a waterfall like every day. Seb loves school and especially his teacher, a lady younger than Robert who has one of the purest souls he ever met. She’s lovely with the kids, always smiling, always kind, adding little games and extras in her tuition to boost the confidence of her pupils. Robert wishes there had been teachers like that when he went to school. 

Seb’s chatter is washing over him, soothing him. Healing him. 

The itch of his skin is gone, the nausea has faded and eventually Robert starts feeling like himself again. He knows already it will only last until tomorrow morning, when he brings Seb to school, says goodbye to him, forced to let him out of his sight, and then the whole ordeal starts again. 

  • -

After Seb is asleep, Robert opens the fridge, grabs a beer and stares at his phone on the kitchen table. It‘s been over a week since the police visited him and he told them all he knew, gave them all the notes from the stalker he had. Robert expected no miracles, not with all the lawyers Lawrence White had behind him and who’d jump by his darling daughter‘s side as soon as he so much as snapped his fingers. But damn. He was hoping at least something would happen .

Nothing though.

Robert isn’t one to cry easily, he likes to think the early death of his mum made him hard, steeled him for life and its obstacles. And he stepped up, worked on his education and later his career. Every goal he reached, he earned. Robert lived a self-determined life and he loved it. Even after he got Seb, Robert managed being a single dad and work. 

Having a stalker changes everything though. 

It changes your life and it changes you. It’s messing with your head. Robert isn’t the same person he was one and a half years ago and nowadays the tears are welling up when his son is sleeping upstairs and Robert wonders how long he’s got until his boy won’t be there anymore, because he’s got kidnapped by some crazy ass stalker.

Seb‘s own mother , for fucks sake! 

It has to be Rebecca. He has no doubt about it. Robert feels it deep in his bones and he can only hope that this one copper with the piercing blue eyes believed him. This Aaron actually seemed to listen, more than his partner. But now one week has passed and he hasn’t heard from the station since. He hasn’t received a new note either. 

Robert isn’t that stupid to think his stalker has miraculously given up all of a sudden. Those breaks aren’t unusual, sometimes the stalker would stay away for weeks, maybe to lull Robert into some false sense of security only to put a new note on his doorstep when he least suspected it. 

His beer is empty so he gets another one and then sits down at the table. He’s damn tired, but sleep won’t come before 1am, so he just stays there, drinking and staring at the black screen of his telly across the living room.

He’s not sure if he properly closed the window in his bedroom.

The thought hits him out of nowhere and while he’s already walking up the stairs to check if everything is locked as it should be, he wonders if he’s ever gonna feel safe in his own home again.

They are having a wonderful time in the park. Well, at least Seb is and that’s the main thing, right? To be honest, Robert would have rather spent the afternoon with him at home, behind closed doors and drawn curtains, where it’s safe. But Seb begged him with huge, pleading eyes and Robert got angry. Not at his son, never at his son, but at himself, that goddamn stalker and the world in general. How was it fair that Seb should miss out just because some batshit crazy weirdo was out there and watching them? So Robert agreed to go out and he bought his boy ice cream and a PawPatrol helium balloon, before they made their way to the playground. 

Robert wasn’t pleased when he noticed how crowded it was. The weather was quite nice and so lots of families had the same idea of spending their free time there. Crowded wasn’t good, crowded meant Robert had to be extra alert, extra careful and couldn't risk taking his eyes off Seb. He put the cord of the balloon around Seb’s wrist so it was easier to keep track of him.

Easier doesn’t mean easy. Seb is quick and he likes to climb and run, he’s an active little boy and Robert really has to focus to not let him out of his sight. 

He hates this, the permanent tension, the neverending stress and worry. 

“Oi, that yours?” someone pipes up next to him and Robert half turns towards the voice.

“What?”

“The wallet.” There is a man holding up a little leather item that looks an awful lot like Robert’s.

He frowns and starts patting the pockets of his jeans where he always puts his money. There is nothing there now though. 

“Found it on the ground behind you.” The man offers him the wallet with a smile and Robert takes it to check quickly if his cards and money are still in there. 

“Thanks,” he says relieved when he realises that nothing’s missing.

“Should be careful, mate, others might just nick it,” the finder says.

Robert barely refrains from rolling his eyes at this absolutely uncalled-for instruction. “Yeah, thanks again,” he mutters instead, not wanting to be an arsehole to the person who saved him from a hassle he doesn’t need on top of everything. 

And that reminds him of Seb. Robert does a quick scan of the playground, keeps looking for that stupid dog balloon. When the man distracted him, Seb had been waiting for his turn to use the slide, but now there are other kids standing on the climbing tower. He checks the end of the slide, but there are just a bunch of girls. His heart does a painful thing and doubles its speed.  

Stay calm, he tells himself, but he’s already falling down that rabbit hole, his eyes darting hastily from the slide to the swings to the monkey bars to the to the slide to the swings… 

The balloon is nowhere to be seen. 

The bloody balloon is gone!

There is a horrible moment where Robert’s world seems to tilt to the side and his stomach feels like it’s in free fall. He makes a few steps forward, worrying his legs might give away any second. He’s gonna be sick. 

“Seb?”

There are so many kids. Running, laughing. Parents in between. So many heads and legs and flying arms and he can’t remember what Seb is wearing today. Is it the red shirt with the dinosaur? Or was it the green one with the football theme? Did he wear a jacket? What the fuck is he wearing and why can’t Robert freaking remember!

“Seb!”

This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. Please, no. More tumbling than walking, he makes his way to the play structure, repeating the desperate plea over and over in his head. 

“Seb!”

Out of nowhere the strawberry red haired head of his son appears as Seb is running towards him.

“Daddy, I wanna build a castle, do we have the spade?” he grins widely as if nothing just happened. As if Robert just didn’t die inside.

His knees fail to act and he just sinks down onto the floor in front of his boy. Relief doesn’t cover what Robert is feeling, there is simply no word existing in the English language. 

“Daddy?”

“Where’s your balloon?” is the first thing that springs to his mind. When Seb only frowns at him without answering, he snaps. “Where’s your damn balloon?” Robert grabs Seb’s shoulders and shakes him. 

“Daddy! Daddy, you’re scaring me.”

Being scared of himself, Robert lets go of him so quickly like he burnt himself. He stares at his own hands and swallows a few times. He still feels sick. 

“Sorry,” he breathes. “I’m sorry, little bear, I didn’t want to scare you, I just thought-”

He stops himself the last moment before he blurts out ‘I thought she’d got you’. 

Seb doesn’t know. He doesn’t know about the stalker, about the notes, about the threat. About Robert’s constant panic. His boy just thinks he’s annoying and overprotective, but Robert is willing to bite the bullet and endure the tantrums and questions - why do we have to move again, daddy? Why are you bringing me into the classroom every day? Why can’t I go on playdates without you? Why do you always keep the curtains closed? - as long as he’s safe. A child his age can’t comprehend the situation anyway so why put that burden on his small shoulders? 

“I just lost you out of my sight,” he explains weakly. 

Seb gives him a weird look. “I was just over there in the sand, daddy.” He points in the general direction.

Robert stares at the lego bricks on Seb’s yellow shirt. He couldn’t even have given the police a description of his son’s clothes. Fuck, he needs to pay more attention in the future, this must not happen again. 

“Yeah, I… sorry.” He tries a smile, but it feels fake. Because it is. Robert just wants to take him and go home. It’s not safe here, his son is basically on a silver plate for the stalker. An easy target. The vulnerability is something Robert hates and doesn’t deal with well. For his boy’s sake he tries to get his shit together again though, Seb is here, unscathed, that’s what matters. Robert’s eyes are roaming the little body, just making sure he’s definitely okay, until they settle on his wrist.  “Where is your balloon?” he asks again, taking the red ribbon that is still knotted around Seb’s arms between his thumb and pointer. The cord where the balloon should be attached to is still there - at least two inches of it.

“A woman cut it off,” Seb says sadly and Robert’s body goes ice cold despite the warm sun rays on his back. 

He shivers. “What?”

“Daddy, that was so mean,” the boy whines and tears are welling up in his huge, innocent eyes. “Why would she do that?”

Robert grabs him and pulls him close. “Where did she go?” he wants to know and starts scanning the playground again. He can’t believe she’s here. She’s here! Fuck! “Seb! Where?” 

“I dunno…there?” Seb points over to a path that leads towards a treeline and Robert’s eyes are following his cue. 

When he spots long blond hair, his stomach clenches. It’s her. Rebecca. The size, the shape, the hair! Without thinking, Robert lets go of Seb and starts running after her. He only knows that he has to stop this insanity once and for all! If he can catch her red-handed, the cops could finally arrest her. Oh God, it all could be over today! All the fears and worries, the panic and sleepless nights!

“It’s over!” he shouts when he is close enough to grab her arm. “You stop this! Now!” Robert spins her around harshly, ready to scream his fury into Rebecca’s face.

“Ow!” Brown eyes are staring back at him, filled with fear. “What the hell?”

This isn’t Rebecca. The lady is probably 20 years older, wears a fake tan and a lot of makeup. Robert is still trying to process that fact when he’s being hit with her handbag. “Get your hand off me, fucking weirdo! Help!” she screams. “Help!”

Robert does let go of her, but the damage is already done, because suddenly he is surrounded by people who are shouting in his face why he would harass that woman. All he can do is mutter an apology over and over, stumbling backwards, telling them it’s just a misunderstanding. He’s being called all sorts of names, but everything is drowned out by that white noise in his ears.

Not looking back, he struts back to Seb, who is standing all alone on the playground, looking lost and confused. He’s crying. It’s the moment where Robert’s heart breaks.

How did it come this far? Why is it going all wrong? How can he stop this? 

He never felt more helpless in his whole life. Other parents are watching him and whispering and pointing towards him, when he lifts Seb to his hip and flees from the playground. 

  • -

It takes a Disney movie, hot cocoa and Seb’s favourite food for dinner until he calms down enough to go to bed without throwing a tantrum. He keeps asking questions that Robert isn’t willing to answer. Or can’t answer. 

Robert is drained and hollow and he wants nothing more than to curl up in his bed and sleep for days, but he forces himself to do his evening routine once his son is asleep. Checking if the windows are closed properly, locking the door to the backyard, opening his front door and looking out for a message. 

Tonight, after over one week of radio silence, there is a white sheet on the doorstep. Robert reaches out with shaky hands, before he stops himself. He knows he can’t touch the letter, it’s possible evidence, so he gets a pair of tweezers from the bathroom.

He grabs the paper and holds it up. There is a text, written by the stalker.

 

Oh Robert, you need to watch out better for Seb. Today you left him alone twice, just imagine what could have happened to the little chap.

  • -

Three shots of Vodka later, Robert rubs his lips as he stares at the note on his kitchen counter and grabs his phone and the little card he’s kept in his wallet for the past few days. He types in Aaron Dingle’s number and hits the green button. While it rings, he drinks more Vodka, straight from the bottle this time. Why the fuck should he hold back. The numbing effect of the alcohol can’t come quick enough. 

The detective answers the call after the fifth ring. “What,” a voice says gruffly. 

“Is this Aaron Dingle?”

“Yes, who are you?”

“Robert. Sugden.” He clears his throat where the booze is still burning. “We talked about the stalker the other week.”

“Yeah, sure, course, I remember,” Aaron Dingle reassures him quickly, sounding softer now. “Did something happen?”

“Yes, there was another message.” Just imagine what could have happened to the little chap. He has to close his eyes for a moment, but the image of the letters is still there, haunting him. “I got another message.”

“Have you touched it?” the detective wants to know immediately.

“No, I-... No.” He feels like an idiot for muttering like that, but his brain won’t cooperate with his mouth like it’s supposed to. 

“Good. Robert, that’s good.”

“Have you found something on the notes I gave you?” he asks although he knows the answer deep down. If there was any evidence on the letter, the police would have told him. 

“Let’s not discuss this over the phone-”

“No!” he interrupts the detective with sudden anger. “I want answers now! Why haven’t you arrested her yet? She should be locked away!”

Aaron Dingle sighs into his phone. “Robert-”

“Don’t Robert me!” he snaps. “She was stalking us on the playground today, she even cut off a balloon from Seb’s wrist. She’s batshit crazy! When are you going to do your damn job?”

There is a short silence. “What?” the detective sounds confused. “Tell me what happened.”

Robert gives him a short summary of his afternoon, but leaves out the story where he falsely accused the wrong woman. He’d rather keep that embarrassing incident to himself. 

“Seb said it was a woman. It’s Rebecca White, I’m telling you!” he finishes while he paces impatiently through his kitchen. This is all taking too long. It shouldn’t be taking that long. 

“When did this happen?” Aaron Dingle asks sharply. “I need a time, Robert.”

 Robert thinks about when they got home. “Four-ish?”

Another short silence.  “Are you sure?” That doesn’t bode well.

“Yes! Why are you asking me that?” He clutches his phone with a clammy hand.

“I won’t discuss this over the phone, I’m coming to get the note.”

“No, you tell me now!” he shouts angrily. 

Aaron Dingle sighs again. “If it’s true and this happened at the time you just told me, I can’t be Rebecca White.” 

Robert freezes on the spot and he stares outside his kitchen window into the darkness, wondering if the stalker is out there and watching him right now. He only sees his own reflection in the glass. Maybe he’s losing his mind. He feels like he’s losing his mind. 

“I interrogated her this afternoon. Robert, she spent the whole afternoon at the station.”







Chapter Text

5 days earlier

 

The woman on screen laughs, shakes her hips, trails her slim fingers seductively through her long hair as she flirts with the camera and turns around in her long, white hippie dress. 

“Oof, she‘s hot! Have you swapped teams, Dingle?“ 

He jumps and swirls around to glare at Chapman as the older detective stares at the computer, smacking obscenely and making approving noises. Aaron angrily hits space and the clip stops. 

“Shut up.“

“Aw, why stop it, Dingle!” Al Chapman whines. He is one of Aaron’s colleagues he doesn‘t get on with, mostly because of his constant remarks about gays in general and Aaron in particular. And also because Al shamelessly flirted with his mum after he had found out that she owns a pub and started joking about being Aaron’s new step dad soon. 

God, Aaron hates his stupid mug. 

“Don’t you have work to do? You know, if you’re bored I could tell Wise.”

“Touchy, Dingle. Watch it.“ Chapman gives him a look.

“Or what? Are you gonna tell my mummy?” Aaron snarks back sarcastically and makes a show of pouting and touching his chest in mock-hurt. 

He expects a comeback, but he only gets a muttered “whatever” from Chapman before he trails off. Idiot.

Aaron waits until he’s out of sight and ear shot before he hits play again, getting comfy on his chair and lifting his legs to put them on his desk. He accidently hits a messy pile of papers and Aaron watches like a hawk how it slowly dips to the side, but just when he wants to jump up and grab the files before they drop, the movement stops and Aaron relaxes again. He’s not bothered with the mess on his table as long as it stays on his table.  Everybody can handle order, but only a genius can master chaos and that. 

Rebecca White is flirting with the camera again, the video obviously taken by a friend on some big ass yacht in Nice according to the instagram posting. Aaron found out that she is fairly active on several networks, but mostly instagram. Normally he couldn’t be arsed less with social media, but Rebecca White’s addiction to present herself might be important in this case, especially to check where she was whenever Robert got a note from his stalker, so Aaron bit the bullet and asked Finn to give him a rudimentary instruction on how to use instagram. And here he is now. Finding it rather dumb. Watching stupid videos of Rebecca White thinking she’s some A-list Hollywood star and taking notes. 

However, he found one interesting pattern so far that might be relevant: it’s that she seems to vanish into thin air every few months for three or four weeks. It correlates with the weeks where Robert didn’t get anything from his stalker. 

“Still BexWhite86?”

“Goddammit!” Aaron hisses, jumping on his chair - again! “Is everybody on a mission to gimme a heart attack or what?” He looks at his partner while he’s rubbing his chest where his heart is skyrocketing. “Get a bloody bell, mate.”

Finn Barton only smiles indulgently and walks over to his own neatly organised desk right at the opposite side of Aaron’s paper havoc. “You must have watched her videos like a million times by now,” he muses and takes his thick glasses off to polish them with a little cloth he keeps in his top drawer. 

Aaron always thinks he looks weird without glasses. Like, his eyes are tiny then. He looks like a mole. He covers his laugh with an awkward cough and focuses back on his screen. “I just wanna be prepared.”

Rebecca White is supposed to come to the station tomorrow where she will be questioned. So far she‘s only a witness, since they have no real evidence against her. 

And Aaron knows he shouldn’t be biased - the stalker could literally be anybody linked to Robert’s past and Aaron won’t take the risk to follow a wrong lead while the little boy is still in danger. They need to be observant, objective. 

But still. Doing a thorough background check of Rebecca White can’t hurt, Aaron reckons.

Finn hums. “Sure your ‘work enthusiasm’ hasn’t anything to do with you wanting to impress Robert Sugden?” He slips his glasses back on, giving Aaron a meaningful look. 

“Please,” he huffs, annoyed, “haven’t even thought of him.” He has. A lot. But Finn doesn’t need to know. “My focus is on the boy and keeping him safe.”

Aaron opens the door to his apartment with a little push of his shoulder and makes a silent note to finally talk to his landlord about the damn problem. Careful to not drop the slice of bread between his teeth and balancing a bag of groceries, he kicks the door shut with his heel and makes his way to his kitchen. Which is approximately 5 steps. And the kitchen is more of a kitchenette. Admittedly, his apartment is pretty tiny, but it’s his own and it’s far away from his mum and the pub where one can’t escape the overbearing Dingle clan. 

Toast and beer for dinner is fine for Aaron and, after he put his errands away, he flops down on his couch and switches the telly on. He flicks mindlessly through the channels until he finds a real crime show. He likes that stuff, it entertains him, which is, considering his job, probably totally odd. 

Aaron doesn’t care. 

Today he isn’t paying attention anyway, instead he takes his laptop from the coffee table and opens it. He groans and mutters a curse when he finds it has run out of battery. Searching the charger takes him almost 15 minutes. He’s not sure how the fuck this is even possible in his tiny, one-room apartment, but apparently it is. 

He doesn’t think of Finn’s comment about Robert Sugden earlier when he opens instagram in his google chrome. 

He absolutely doesn’t think of green eyes and freckles either when he types in the search bar ‘Robert Sugden’.

He’s just doing research for his case.

Much to Aaron’s dislike, the case more or less rests for a few days. The forensics comes back without any usable traces of DNA or fingerprints and Wise needs them as support in an investigation of a bank robbery.

“Oi, Dingle! If you wanna help us, call Cain and ask him if he did it,“ one of the guys jokes and the others are laughing as they enter the conference room where Wise had called them for the special unit.

He will never escape his family name at the station. Aaron rolls his eyes, but he does secretly send a text under the table to his uncle.

Bank rob Hotten, tell me it wasnt u

He’s half joking, half serious. Bank robbery is not Cain’s style, but with him you never know. The reply comes a few minutes later.

they made 370k wish I was that lucky sunshine

wud be in the bahamas by now

Shaking his head and sighing, he puts his phone away. His family will be the final nail in his coffin one day, he just knows it. 

Two days later they catch the bank robber. It’s a twenty-something roadworker from Burnley who piled up debts because of his drug addiction. The successful manhunt is a great triumph for the team and DS Wise’s face is appearing on the local newspaper and even on telly.

Aaron gets a much needed day off and being a person without many hobbies, Aaron does what he always does to unwind. He goes running. After 15 minutes his shirt is already soaked through, his hair is sticking on his forehead and sweat is running into his eyes, but he doesn’t think of Robert Sugden and Rebecca White for a moment, which is a rare blessing. 

Aaron has known Rebecca White for a total of 10 seconds and he can’t stand her already. 

The Captain gave them a long, detailed and unfortunately also redundant briefing - thanks a lot, Aaron can do his job, he is a big boy already - of how to act around Rebecca White and what questions to ask. Yadda, yadda. It’s all because of her father, Lawrence White, the media mogul his captain obviously fears like the devil does holy water. 

To no one’s surprise she enters the police station with not only one, but two lawyers in expensive suits trailing after her. They expected it and if that isn’t dodgy as fuck, he doesn’t know what is.

“Really? For interviewing as a witness?” Aaron raises his eyebrows.  

Rebecca White smiles sweetly at him in a way that puts him off more than anything else. “Well, I have an educated guess about what this is. there is only one person who’s obsessed with me.” She throws her hair over her shoulder. “And you are?”

“DS Dingle. This is my partner, DS Barton.” He points at Finn, but his eyes never leave her face.

She smirks even wider and offers her delicate hand for a shake. “Well, it’s nice to meet you.” And then she adds: “Mr Dingle.” She flutters her eyelashes and Aaron almost laughs at her. 

Is she flirting with him? Well, she’s barking up a very wrong tree then. 

The lawyers introduce themselves as Mr Schmidt and Mr Windmill, two men in their forties, clearly ambitious, both slippery as an eel. Aaron and Finn lead the trio past the noisy cube farm into one of the quieter interrogation rooms, where they offer her a glass of water while Rebecca White and her lawyers take their seats. Finn informs them that their conversation will be recorded for further purposes just when one of the lawyers pulls out another voice recorder out of his briefcase with a fake smile on his face.

“For our further purposes,” he informs them.

As soon as they’re all seated, Finn and Aaron on one side of the table, Rebecca White and her legal team on the other, Aaron wants to start their questioning just like they discussed it beforehand, but Mr Schmidt speaks out first. “Can you tell us please why you ordered Miss White to the station today?”

“There might be a serious threat for the safety of her son, so helping us with this inquiry should be in Miss White’s fundamental interests,” Finn replies calmly. 

The second lawyer, Mr Windmill, starts taking notes immediately.

“Clarify ‘threat for safety’, please?” Schmidt asks.

“We received believable evidence that Sebastian White and his father are being stalked.”

“Being stalked how?”

“He is receiving letters.”

“And I suppose you have already spoken to Sebastian’s father?”

“Yes.”

Aaron leans back on his chair, baffled, wondering what the hell is happening. Who the fuck is doing the questioning here? He can’t help but think it should be the other way around.

“And did Sebastian’s father tell you whom he suspects of being that stalker?” Schmidt continues.

Before Finn can answer, Aaron finally pipes up. “We are investigating all avenues of inquiry,” he says sharply. Seriously, he’s been silent at this weird display long enough. “And just for the record, we did not order Miss White in, we asked her to help us with this case. Is there a problem with that?” He gives Mr Schmidt a challenging look. 

“Certainly not, Mr Dingle.”

“Good. Then we’d like to talk to Miss White now, if that is alright with you.”

Schmidt’s face looks like it could curdle milk and Aaron feels like he kinda won this round. He focuses his full attention back to Rebecca and gives Finn a little nudge under the table with his foot to start. It’s how they mostly do it, Finn is asking the question whereas Aaron stays observant. For whatever reason - Aaron will never understand - people find Finn more charming than him. Well, he is past the point of being miffed about it. Mostly anyway.

“Miss White, you said earlier you know what this is about, can you tell us what you meant?” Finn flashes a smile and Rebecca White is quick to answer.

“Please, I know this is my ex accusing me of ludicrous things, he did it before.” She looks annoyed, but also as if she is bored about this whole investigation already. “Haven’t you done your homework? You know I was questioned about his allegations before and they found nothing, that’s why they closed the case.”

They do know that of course, they had a phone call with the other station of Robert’s former home. They also know that the file is a complete joke, since they got it faxed over. It was obvious that their colleagues more or less wanted to file the whole case to the archives as quickly as possible - they did a little digging, but when they came up empty and no new notes from the stalker popped up, they put their investigation on hold. 

“Oh, this case is not closed, Miss White,” Finn informs her while he’s looking down on his notes and that’s why he’s missing out on Rebecca’s lips turning into a thin line. “When did you last see your son?”

“I don’t know… years ago.”

“Years?”

“Yes, two or three years at least.”

“And when did you last have contact with Mr Sugden?” Finn continues the questions they prepared beforehand. 

“About a year ago unfortunately,” Rebecca tells them. “He phoned me, like out of the blue, and started rambling about a toy and called me a stalker. He was hysterical, I didn’t even understand what he wanted from me. A few days later he showed up at a club where I was DJing that night and after my gig he pushed me into a corner and shouted in my face. It was scary. I was scared.” Rebecca White made a pause and her lower lip started trembling. “I didn’t even know what was happening. This was the man I loved, the man I once wanted to marry, and now he had turned into this yelling monster.” She produced a tissue out of her bag and started sniffing into it. 

“Do you have an explanation why Mr Sugden suspects you of being the person who sends him messages?”

The sad expression disappears in a heartbeat. “He’s obsessed with me,” Rebecca says, almost triumphantly. “I don’t even know why. I am just trying to move on with my life and I told him over and over: Robert, you need to let go, you need to move on!“

Which is pretty much the opposite of what Robert told them. 

Finn asks her about the date when Robert got the last note from the stalker, a few days ago, and what she was doing on that day. 

Rebecca looks to the side, thinking, before her face lights up. “Ah, right! I had a photoshoot in the morning, you can ask my agent if you want. Or wait until you see the proof of it worldwide on social media. I am modelling for an upcoming bikini ad from-”

“Just-,” Aaron pipes up, not interested in those details at all,  “answer the question.”

“Sure,” she says stiffly. “After that I went home to sleep because the night before I had a DJ set and hadn’t slept at all.”

“So you were at home all day?”

“From noon on, yes. As I said, I was sleeping.”

“Is there someone who can confirm that?” Finn asks.

Rebecca starts smirking. “Sadly I was alone in my bed. But I wouldn’t mind changing that in the future… Are you interested, DS Barton?”

One of the lawyers, Windmill, coughs awkwardly, which is nothing compared to Finn’s reaction. His face gets beet red and he starts spluttering and huffing ineloquently. 

“Is this investigation somehow funny for you?” Aaron bites out gruffly. 

The smirk slides off Rebecca’s face. “No!” she exclaims. “Of course not. But… sometimes humour is the only thing that helps me to go through this.” She clutches her chest dramatically. “How would you feel if your ex accused you of stalking him? This is insane, this could ruin my career, my whole life. Robert has no evidence whatsoever that it’s me and yet he keeps accusing me and reporting me to the police. He’s just seeking revenge. Or maybe he wants attention. Yeah, have you considered that? Maybe he writes those notes himself!”  This is the point where Mr Schmidt politely tries to interrupt her and Aaron notices how both lawyers suddenly look extremely alert, but Rebecca White has flown into a rant. Well, Aaron and Finn definitely won’t stop her. “Yes, I mean, that’s possible, right?” she goes on. “It’s his bitterness and jealousy that he’s stuck in this boring life of a suburban housewife in his middle class townhouse whereas I am living my best life.”

It might be possible, yeah, but it’s also very unlikely. Robert certainly was upset, but his behaviour doesn’t add up with Rebecca’s speculation. 

“I take it there isn’t any DNA or fingerprints on those letters, is that correct?” Mr Schmidt asks. 

“The latest message is still in the forensics, but yeah, thus far we haven’t,” Finn admits.

“Well, then I’d say we are done here. Our client has told you everything she knows,” Schmidt declares and Windmill nods, already putting the recorder back in his briefcase. Rebecca White gets up from her chair quickly, a pleased smile on her face. 

Aaron even would consider it as a smirk.

“We’d ask you to stay available for us in case we need your help with any further questions, Miss White,” Finn demands.

“That goes without saying,” Windmill answers patronisingly. “In return we expect absolute discretion about your investigation and this interview. Let’s just say, we would not advise you to leak this to the media.” He makes a smug face and nods as a goodbye as the three of them are leaving the room. 

What a cold move to remind them that Lawrence White is Rebecca’s father. As if they would forget that and run straight to the next rag and spill out details of their case. 

Besides that obvious insult of their work ethics, Aaron has no doubt that White senior would destroy everyone who’d piss off his daughter, no matter if she’s the black sheep or not. Robert’s story of him losing his job after complaining to the other station about Rebecca indicates as much. 

It’s best to stay under the radar of the media mogul and as long as the charge runs against a person unknown that’s exactly what they’re doing. 

Finn blows out a long breath and takes the file from the table. “Well, that didn’t bring us far,” he sighs and shoves his glasses up his nose. “Although it was kinda weird that she didn’t ask one single time about the content of the texts, right? And she never asked about the well-being of her son.” They walk slowly back to their desks. “I mean, even if she gave Robert full custody, I’d expect her to at least want to know if he’s alright. Weird.”

Aaron hums. “Good observation, Finn.” Finn Barton beams a megawatt smile at him. “But, as usual, you missed the bigger point,” he continues and slaps Finn’s shoulder in sympathy. 

His partner frowns confused. “Which point?”

“She said she hasn’t seen Robert for a year, right?”

“Yes?”

Aaron smiles. “So, how does she know he lives in a townhouse when he moved there only a few months ago, eh?”

The thought keeps circling in his mind, in fact he keeps analysing the whole interview over and over - not only in his head, Aaron listened to the audio record three times already. 

There isn’t any hint that she actually is stalking her ex boyfriend and her own son. The only thing that sticks out is the remark of the townhouse and Aaron can’t help but wonder if she would have continued her rambling if her lawyer wouldn’t have spoken up.
Probably.

He sighs and bumps his apartment door open with his shoulder. 

They haven’t anything concrete apart from the townhouse blip and their gut feeling. Rebecca White isn’t a genuine person in Aaron’s eyes and he’s glad Finn agrees with him on that. 

Aaron tosses his keys into the bowl on the drawers on the opposite side of the wall and makes the short way to his fridge. After a quick check his food hunt ends up unsuccessful and so he calls his favourite pizza guy, who always cheerfully claims that Aaron is single handedly keeping him in business, to order his usual. 

It‘s a pizza salami which he will never get to eat, because just as he‘s about to get rid of his jumper and jeans, his phone rings.

For a long moment he contemplates ignoring it, it could be his mum after all. But then his curiosity wins and he fishes his Samsung out to check the caller ID.

It‘s an unknown number. Aaron hates unknown numbers. 

He looks heavenward, sighs and taps his thumb on the screen. “Yes.“

“Is this Aaron Dingle?”

“Yes, who are you?”

“Robert. Sugden. We talked about the stalker the other week.”

“Yeah, sure, course, I remember,” he says quickly, because how could he forget what is on his mind almost all the time?! “Did something happen?” Immediately alert. He gave Robert the number for emergencies and now he starts praying the boy was alright and safe.

“Yes, there was another message from the stalker” Robert sounds tense. “I got another note.”

“Have you touched it?” 

“No, I-... No.” 

God, Aaron feels for the man, he‘s obviously not well right now. That‘s not the sound of a man who made the whole thing up out of jealousy or revenge. “Good. Robert, that’s good,“ he says as calm and soothing as possible. 

“Have you found something on the notes I gave you?” 

“Let’s not discuss this over the phone-”

“No!” Robert yells, “I want answers now! Why haven’t you arrested her yet? She should be locked away!”

Aaron sighs into his phone. “Robert-”

“Don’t Robert me! She was stalking us on the playground today, she even cut off a balloon from Seb’s wrist. She’s batshit crazy! When are you going to do your damn job?”

“What?” Aaron asks, mouth suddenly feeling dry. “Tell me what happened.”

Robert tells him a story about a balloon in the park and Aaron doesn‘t understand half of his upset rambling, but he keeps quiet and lets him talk. “Seb said it was a woman. It’s Rebecca White, I’m telling you!” 

“When did this happen?” He wants to know. “I need a time, Robert.”

 There is a short pause. “Four-ish?”

“Are you sure?” Aaron‘s shoulders are dropping.

“Yes! Why are you asking me that?” 

Aaron closes his eyes and bites his lip, thinking about the options. “I won’t discuss this over the phone, I’m coming to get the note.”

“No, you tell me now!” Robert shouts into his ear. 

“If it’s true and this happened at the time you just told me, I can’t be Rebecca White. I interrogated her this afternoon. Robert, she spent the whole afternoon at the station.”

  • -

By the time he arrives at Robert‘s it‘s past 11pm and the street is empty and quiet. He knocks about ten times before he sends a text.

I‘m at your door, pls open

He waits a few seconds and then adds

It‘s Aaron

in case Robert hasn’t saved his contact yet. No need to freak him out with an unknown number texting they’d be at his door. A minute later said door is being ripped open and Robert is more swaying than standing there, staring at him.

“I didn‘t wanna ring the bell, I thought it might wake up Sebastian,“ Aaron explains awkwardly and Robert‘s expression softens.

“That‘s… thoughtful, Aaron.“ The words are slurred and it‘s obvious Robert had way too much alcohol.

Aaron sighs. “C‘mon, let‘s go in and have a look at that new note.“ He puts his hand on the small of Robert‘s back, because the man drifts heavily to the left and doesn‘t seem to be steady on his feet anymore as he walks.

Robert leads him to the kitchen counter where the note is lying. “Have you touched it?“ Aaron asks absently and mostly out of reflex while he‘s staring at the text.

 

Oh Robert, you need to watch out better for Seb. Today you left him alone twice, just imagine what could have happened to the little chap.

 

A shiver is running down his spine and fuck yeah, this is hella creepy.

“Nope. Tweezers.“ 

By now, Aaron doesn’t have illusions of finding anything on the paper, but you’ll never know, right? Best to be careful, just in case. The sound of a cap being turned open makes him look up. Robert is pouring a glass of what is presumably Vodka, as far as a quick check of the bottle shape tells Aaron.

“Robert.” 

It’s not his place to step in, it’s not his place to tell Robert what he should and should not drink - as long as Robert doesn’t get violent or behind the wheel.

But then again, it’s also not his place to show up here in the middle of the night, off duty and without his partner, when he could have just informed the guys on patrol to collect the evidence and then speak to Robert tomorrow. 

But then again, that whole thing left the formal path when he offered Robert his first name and gave away his private number. 

He cares. For some reason Aaron cares. He hasn’t even met Sebastian, the boy this is all about, and still. It’s probably because this is his chance to prove himself to his captain, he tells himself. A chance he doesn’t want to let slip. 

“What.” Robert puts the bottle on the counter and grabs the glass, unfazed. 

Aaron reaches out and places his hand on Robert’s arm. “I need you with me, okay?”

Robert looks back at him, with red rimmed and bloodshot eyes, his skin pale and expression tired. The thought that Rebecca White suggested he would make the whole thing up, makes Aaron’s blood boil.

Suddenly it’s like Robert slips an invisible mask on his face, he straightens his shoulders and starts smirking.

“Why? What do you have in mind?” he purrs and steps in Aaron’s personal space. “I could use a little distraction…”

And well, Aaron didn’t see that coming. It’s not that he wouldn’t want to, because dear Lord, Robert Sugden is hot as the fucking sun , but Aaron is a cop, investigating his case. And also not to mention the not so little issue of consent. Robert is already drunk, sleep deprived, scared and vulnerable. Yeah, Aaron definitely would like to get laid again at some point this decade, but he’s not a damn arsehole. “I’m gonna need to ask you a few questions, Robert,” he clarifies with the most calmness he can muster, filing the information that Robert is apparently into men as well away in his head.

Robert’s green eyes are locked on his, his gaze is intense, pleading, desperate almost, but then his posture falters and he looks away. “Sorry,” he mutters. 

Aaron only shakes his head instead of saying that it’s fine, rests his hands carefully on Robert’s shoulders and gently steers him to one of the chairs at the dining table. “Sit. We have to get you sober.”














 

Chapter Text

He’s getting sober slowly and instantly wishes he was drunk again.

“Here.” With a stern expression on his face, Aaron places the eighth glass of water in front of him.The DS is taking no shit, Robert had to drink them all up, along with two coffees. His bladder is going to kill him all night - actually it already is, thanks a lot! - but the desired effect is reached. “How are you feeling?” 

Like shit. Absolute shit. 

Robert receives an examining look.

“Better.” He wonders how clever it is to lie to a detective. Given Aaron’s unimpressed expression and slight head shake, he reckons not very. 

It’s only partly a lie though, because the presence of Aaron alone is helping to get his head out of that awful spiral. Aaron is a cop, Aaron is safe. And also a welcome distraction. 

He kept digging through Robert’s drawers and cupboards for coffee, a cup and the glass, not without commenting on Robert’s organisation.

“Jesus Christ, who are you? Mr Monk?”

Robert just rolled his eyes at him. Yes, he likes his things neat, alright? In the mornings he can’t afford to waste precious time searching for Seb’s lunch boxes, plastic bottles or his favourite cereal bowl. A single parent life is all about organisation and if anything, Robert is a brilliant organiser.

Watching Aaron moving around in his home like he belonged there was weird. Because this was only his second visit and work related on top of it all, but still. It made Robert painfully aware of his loneliness. Usually he didn‘t mind being single much, it’s less bullshit and there was no need to justify himself to anyone besides his son. Right now though, looking at Aaron, he got sentimental at all the conversations he missed out on, all the banter, the laughter, the joined memories. 

And then Aaron pulled an item out and held it up. “Shouldn’t, errm, that be.. I dunno, in the bathroom, or…?” he asked awkwardly and blushed.

Robert stared at him for a solid five seconds before he bursted into laughter. “Ohmygod,” he wheezed out, absolutely silly and giddy after the horrible day he had and it felt awesome, “this isn’t a syringe for-! Oh God! This is for baking, to put whipped cream on a cake!”

The moment the penny dropped in Aaron’s head is priceless. The detective looked partly relieved and partly flustered, still holding up the kitchen utensil. “Oh.” He coughed. “Good.”

“I like baking,” Robert explained, grinning now. “And thanks for being concerned about my hygiene, but I have that covered, too. Upstairs, in my bathroom.” And then he winked. Like an idiot.

Robert buries his burning face into his hands in shame when he thinks of it now that he’s sobering up. He just wants to dig a deep, deep hole somewhere far away, crawl into it and die. He can’t believe he talked with DS Dingle about that, justkillhimthefucknow! And on top of his ultimate embarrassment comes that sharp sting of being rejected. God, he can’t believe he hit on Aaron earlier. And got brushed off. 

A-fucking-mazing.

If there’s any positive thing out of this drunken episode that shall never ever be mentioned again, it’s that Aaron Dingle is apparently familiar with anal play and well, that’s good to know. So Robert isn’t barking up the wrong tree then. 

“Feeling up to talking about that?” Aaron asks him and points to the counter where the note is still lying.

He’d rather not, but Robert says dutifully: “Okay.” As if there was a choice. 

So he tells the story about this afternoon again, about how Seb was suddenly out of his sight, the mysterious woman who cut off the balloon and then finally the new message. This time Aaron is recording it with his phone and asks questions which Robert tries to answer as best as he can.

“The woman who cut off the balloon, did you get a look at her?”

Robert shudders at the memory of the lady he chased across the playground, who hit him with her handbag because she thought he was some perv. Not a moment he’s proud of. Eventually he shakes his head and Aaron thinks about that for a moment, then he sighs. 

“I’ve got to talk to Seb.”

“No.” Hard no. Absolutely no. Seb doesn’t know about the stalker and it’s staying that way.

“Robert-”

“I said no,” he repeats, sharper this time.

“He’s the only one who saw her,” Aaron says with his typical quiet, hoarse voice and looks at Robert, his blue eyes bright and intense. “He’s the only one who can describe her.”

Robert crosses his arms and stares back at him, sullenly. He knows the cop has a point, he‘s not stupid. Still. “I‘ve never spoken to him about the stalker, he‘s only five.“ 

Seb’s just… he’s just a baby! Robert‘s baby. 

Aaron‘s expression softens. “Okay. Understood. I wouldn‘t need to mention the notes, I‘d just talk to him about the incident on the playground.“

“And what? You gonna tell him the police are investigating lost balloons now?“ Robert huffs. 

“Hey, I‘d be the coolest copper in town, alright?“ Aaron jokes and Robert finds himself laughing despite his will.

Genuinely laughing. 

He doesn‘t know why, but it feels good being around Aaron Dingle. Maybe it‘s that safety thing, he thinks. What could possibly happen with a cop in the house, right?

“And you really wouldn‘t tell him about the notes and the threat, yeah?“ Robert has to be sure once he gets serious again. 

“Not as long as you don‘t want me to,“ Aaron answers and there‘s this sincerity written all over his face, shining in his eyes, and it calms Robert down. 

This man seems trustworthy. 

Now Robert only needs to relearn how to actually trust someone after the past one and a half years.

“Okay.“ He might as well start now. 

“Good.“ Aaron smiles.

Probably to lull Robert into a false security, because the next thing he says is: “Let‘s talk about other possible suspects then, you know, since Rebecca was at the station this afternoon.“

Robert groans. “And here I was starting to like you.“ He quickly rubs his face to hide his reddening cheeks. 

He really does like Aaron. Damn. That’s not good. That’s not good at all. 

“Sorry, I know it’s late,” Aaron says, oblivious to Robert’s thoughts, and checks the time on his phone. “You’re right. I should go and give you some time to rest.”

Bless him for assuming Robert might be tired. Of course, after the day he had he is absolutely knackered - however, he won’t be able to sleep. He just knows it. His sleep pattern is truly fucked.

“I’m not really tired,” he assures the detective and admits: “Sleeping is not… it’s not easy at the moment.”

Aaron nods, understandingly. “But you don’t wanna talk about the case either.” 

“Not really.” 

He  kind of wishes he could ask Aaron to stay a little longer, just until he’s relaxed enough to go to bed, but he doesn’t know how to ask. It’s not something you ask a cop, right?

Aaron is looking at him with a long, calculating stare and the silence between them is stretching. Robert shifts on his chair, feeling awkward all of a sudden with the irrational fear his weird thoughts might be finally obvious for the clever cop. 

“I wouldn’t mind a cuppa right now,” Aaron says easily, looking him right in the eyes. “If you’ve got some?”

Robert nearly chokes on the air he’s sucking into his lungs before he springs to action. “Sure. Yeah.” He gets up quickly to get the supplies, glancing over his shoulder back to Aaron who’s sitting at his dining table and leaning back on the chair. To get comfortable. To stay a little longer. “Earl Grey okay?” 

His poor attempt to not sound too eager fails spectacularly, even to his own ears. 

“I like anything as long as it’s hot.” The detective is looking at him again, a tiny smile tugging on the corners of his mouth and what the heck, is he flirting?

Is this flirting? Robert is so rusty at this point he wouldn’t even realise he’s being hit on and it’s a bit unnerving.

Then he reminds himself that Aaron is just a cop. A cop who is investigating Robert’s case. It’s only down to Robert's sleep deprived brain that the lines are blurring. He repeats the thought over and over in his head while he’s putting the kettle on, but a tingling warmth is spreading from his belly anyway. 

Somehow, don‘t ask Robert how, they are ending on the couch, watching telly. Aaron’s eyes are sparkling with glee when he discovers that reruns of CSI:Miami are on, which Robert finds pretty hilarious. 

“A cop who likes crime series?! You’re kidding!”

“There is no kidding when it comes to Horatio Caine,” Aaron Dingle says earnestly. 

On screen the famous lieutenant is being told by one of the cops: “They call it speed dating, our victim had 15 dates.” “Well, you know what they say, Frank,” Caine replies with his deep monotone robot-voice, “speed kills.”

The title of the show starts with a scream from The Who and Robert snorts. “This is ridiculous.”

“This is Horatio Caine,” Aaron corrects him with a smirk. 

They are watching the episode making fun of the dialogue - Robert doesn’t remember when he was laughing this much for the last time - and counting how often Caine pulls his sunglasses off only to put them back on a moment later - it‘s 5 so far, but the episode just started. Robert suggests Aaron should get sunglasses himself for the badass cop attitude and Aaron promises to consider it. 20 minutes in, Aaron tells him who the killer is and Robert insists that he’s cheating because he certainly knows that episode already. 

Aaron just laughs, a wonderful sound, and shrugs, his expression full of mischief. 

Robert relaxes into the soft cushions of his couch, not able to stop his face from grinning. This is great. Just hanging out. Bantering. Having fun. 

“Is that why you wanted to become a cop? To be as cool as Mr Miami himself?” Robert teases him.

The happiness slowly fades from Aaron's face and Robert feels like he asked something he shouldn’t have. He wishes he could take it back and still enjoy that lighthearted mood.

There is a pause where he thinks Aaron won’t answer at all, but eventually he replies with a quiet voice: “No.”

Robert waits for him to elaborate or add something, but Aaron just keeps looking at the flatscreen and bounces his right leg restlessly. Tense.

Okay. Well. There must be some sort of meta story which the cop obviously isn’t willing to share. 

It’s irrational, the longing to comfort Aaron, because whatever is on his mind is something that makes him sad. Robert refrains with all his willpower to reach out and touch Aaron’s shoulder for a squeeze.

A few scenes later, Horatio Caine mutters another one of his absurd one liners in his non-existent beard and they both are giggling again. 

Just like that the atmosphere has changed once more and they fall back into their light conversation. Being with Aaron is so easy, Robert muses, they just click

He keeps stealing glances at the other man, marvels at the perfection of his profile with his cute little nose. Robert also wonders what that scruff must feel like, under his touch or against his lips. Or against other parts of his body. Robert’s mind is galloping away with filthy thoughts like that and he’s too exhausted to stop himself. Hell, who fucking cares what he thinks about DS Dingle, right? It doesn’t hurt anyone and the  man is objectively gorgeous… Robert has two functioning eyes, Robert can acknowledge a good looking man when he sees one. 

That’s all. 

Nothing more, nothing less. 

  • -

“Daddy?”

Blinking open eyelids that feel like lead, Robert lifts his head. His foggy brain is disorientated for a moment, before he takes in the current situation. Seb is standing there, Toothless, the little dragon plushie, tucked under his arm, looking at him with big eyes, while Robert… 

Robert lies on the sofa. 

The last thing he remembers though was him sitting next to Aaron. Aaron, who is nowhere to be seen because he’s apparently gone.

There is also a blanket covering Robert and the telly has been switched off.

“Did you sleep on the couch?” Seb asks him. 

It appears so, yes.

Robert can‘t believe he fell asleep on Aaron. Can‘t believe the man must have laid him down and pulled a blanket over him at some point.

That warm, fuzzy feeling is back inside his belly and Robert rubs his face to erase his tiredness. Sure it was a short night, but he actually slept like a log and he can‘t even recall when that happened the last time. 

It’s bright in the living room, the sun already shining and Robert sits up, looking at his watch and phone, whose battery is nearly empty. 
There is no note or text from Aaron and  Robert wonders if he would be the type to leave little messages if last night had been real.

If they were actually friends. Or more than friends.

Robert shakes his head at his own silly thoughts. “Let‘s make you breakfast and then we can get ready for school.“ 

Right, it‘s time to function, to focus on the day ahead, to think about his son, his job and not to chase some abstruse fantasy.  

  • -

The tension, the fear, the sweating. Always the same.

The shrill sound of the school bell. 

Kids running out of the building and then finally a glimpse of red hair. 

Robert slowly breathes out, unclenches his fingers. Everything’s okay, he tells himself, this is just his daily routine. Seb is here. He‘s fine.

His son climbs on the backseat. “Hi daddy!”

“Hi Sebbo,” he smiles. “How was school today?”

“Daddy, do you know what ten plus ten is?” The seatbelt clicks and Robert starts the motor.

“I know it, buddy. Do you know it too?” 

“Twenty!” Seb says excitedly.

“Correct!” 

“And we learned about size today, daddy. Ms Kutcher says size doesn’t matter.“

His mind is galloping right into the gutter and Robert coughs, his cheeks are heating up. Goddamn, he needs to get laid so badly.

“Did you know that ants are the strongest animals? Ms Kutcher says they can carry a lot more than their own weight. And you always tell me I’d be too heavy for you to carry me anymore.”

Robert feels stupidly proud. It’s not like Seb is one of those highly skilled, super clever kids who are playing piano and master multiple languages at the age of five, but he loves learning new stuff and it fills Robert’s heart with an indescribable joy to watch his son being so animated about things that seem so normal and boring to himself, he doesn‘t even think about them. 

The best thing about parenting is re-discovering the wonders of the world through the eyes of your child. 

Seb keeps rattling about Ms Kutcher this and Ms Kutcher that and Robert hums here and there, enjoying listening to him. 

“Can we drive home first, daddy? I wanna pick up Toothless,“ Seb asks.

Robert tenses up and glances to the rear view mirror where he sees his son smiling happily out of the window.

“Err, drive home first ? Before what? And for what do you need Toothless? Help me out, buddy.“ He‘s searching in his brain for an appointment that he missed-

“The playdate, daddy. With Simon.“ Seb reminds him with a smile and oh, yes. 

Fuck.

Robert forgot all about that with what happened yesterday. “Shhh-” he stops himself from swearing, “shambles! I’m sorry, mate, but we have this other thing today. The police-” Whatever he wanted to add gets drowned by the massive tantrum Seb immediately starts throwing.

“No! I’m going to play with Simon, you promised me, daddy!” he yells from the backseat. “Never am I allowed to do anything!”

“That’s… that’s not true, little bear,” Robert starts weakly, but deep down it hurts knowing that, in fact, it is true. As soon as school is finished he prefers keeping his son in his sight. It’s safer. Robert feels safer then. Consequently Seb doesn’t have the same liberties as his mates. 

Of course his boy knows that all too well, hence the loud and earnest crying. 

“This hasn’t got anything to do with me, okay. It’s the police, alright?” Robert tries to get through to him with a raised voice because Seb is screaming that loud. “They have some questions they wanna ask you.”

Seb’s bawling quietens to broken, little hiccups. “But I… I haven’t done anything!” he protests.

When he spots the next lay-by, Robert pulls over, switches the engine off, opens his seatbelt and turns around on his seat. Seb looks miserable, tears still streaming down his red cheeks and his lip trembling. 

“You haven’t. It’s all good.” Robert is annoyed at himself that he finds himself totally unprepared for this conversation. For whatever reason he always imagined that Aaron would explain everything to Seb. “It’s just they are searching for that woman in the park who cut off your balloon, because she might have done other stuff, too. And you have seen her, right?” Seb nods slowly. “The police say you’re a witness, because you can describe her to them.”

“Is this woman dangerous?” his son whispers breathless. 

“I don’t know,” Robert answers vaguely, not wanting to scare Seb more than necessary.

The boy starts nagging his lip and stares out of the window, sniffing.

Feeling the desperate need to cheer him up somehow, Robert offers: “I’m calling Simon’s mum and we’ll reschedule, okay?”

Epic parental fail. 

Epic fail. 

Because just as Seb was calming down, maybe even was fascinated by the thought that he might be able to help the real police, he is now suddenly reminded of his ruined playdate. The moment the words left Robert’s mouth, he regrets them and his son starts crying again. Robert wants to bang his head in frustration against the steering wheel. 

Seb sucks air into his lungs and yells: “I don’t wanna be a whitney, I wanna play dragons!”  

  • -

Robert knows that something’s off right when he opens the door. He catches the copper with the glasses hissing something that sounds a lot like “keep it professional today” while Aaron looks like he licked a lemon.

Robert raises his eyebrows.

“Mr Sugden!” Finn Barton, Robert’s brain provides, slips into his role of a friendly police man in a heartbeat. Ain’t that professional, Robert thinks. “May we come in?”

“Sure.” He steps aside and Barton walks past him. “Everything okay?” he whispers to Aaron and his question is answered with an exasperated look and a slight eye roll. 

Putting two and two together isn‘t hard. Aaron must be in the doghouse for coming here last night, off duty and alone, and Robert feels guilty because that was his fault, wasn‘t it. 

All in all, the mood in the Sugden house is comparable to a freezer, since Seb is still alternating between sulking and screaming and the two cops are tense as well. This is going to go well. 

Not. 

Robert sighs, making a cuppa for the three of them and watching the two detectives arguing with hushed voices. Robert can‘t help but think that this isn‘t a textbook example of professionalism either.

“... let me do the talking…” Finn Barton whispers to Aaron and gets a grumbled “fine, whatever” in return.

As soon as DS Barton approaches Seb who‘s been pouting on the sofa, Robert sees his son’s demeanour changing and he knows that closed off face too well. The conversation is doomed to fail because the policeman is met with nearly 4 feet of stubbornness right now. The cop sits down on the sofa next to the boy and smiles widely. 

This will be a disaster.

“Hi Sebastian, I’m-”

“Name’s Seb,” his son cuts him off curtly, crossing his arms. 

Barton swallows, the smile a little strained now. “Alright. Seb, then. I’m DS Barton. Do you know what a DS is?”

Seb stays silent and looks demonstratively away. Pouring the tea into three cups, Robert sighs again. 

“I’m a detective, a police detective,” Finn Barton goes on, “and I have a few questions regarding an incident that appeared to have happened yesterday on the playground.”

Robert slowly frowns, noticing that this Barton certainly hasn’t a lot to do with kids it seems. Aaron is irritated as well as it seems, if his eye rolling, head shaking and huffing are anything to go by. He‘s slouching back into the armchair, shooting invisible daggers at his colleague. Normally, Robert would find that endearing, but Barton is still talking to his baby and the bad feeling intensifies in Robert‘s guts. 

“I will record our conversation if that’s okay with you,” Barton goes on when he still gets ignored. “So can you please tell me what happened?”

Unsurprisingly, Seb stays quiet. Robert hands out the hot mugs. 

Aaron gives him a small smile and mutters a grateful “ta”, Barton just nods at him, but focuses quickly on Seb again. 

“It’s really important that you tell us everything you remember, alright? About what happened?” 

Silence. 

“And what you saw. That might be really helpful for our work.” 

Silence. 

“Just take your time. Try to remember. Anything you saw that might be helpful.”

Seb looks more and more tense with every passing second, his little shoulders hunching and eyebrows drawn together, it’s almost painful to watch for Robert at this point. All his fatherly instincts kick in, to protect his boy from this awkward situation he obviously can’t handle. He’s only five years old, for heaven’s sake. Just when Robert opens his mouth to interfere, Seb jumps up from the couch and runs outside through the backdoor. 

“Jesus Christ, he’s just a kid, what’s wrong with you!” Aaron snaps at his colleague even before Robert had the chance to open his mouth and tell him a few words himself.

“I was just going to-” Finn Barton starts.

“I’m gonna look after him,” Robert mutters, feeling guilty again. He should have trusted his guts and stopped this right from the start.

Seems he can‘t do anything right. 

Despite just wanting to curl up into a ball and hide in a dark room, Robert puts on a neutral mask and pushes himself to keep going. He has to. For Seb.

“Wait.” Aaron walks over to him and peers through the kitchen window into the small backyard where Seb is sitting on the swing with his back to the house and dangling his feet.

He looks so lost and sad and tiny and Robert wants nothing more than to wrap him up in his arms and protect him from everything.   

“Let me try,” Aaron pleads.

Robert appreciates that he’s been asked for permission, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea right now. “I don’t know…” He shakes his head. “You won’t get anything out of him in this state.”

“I can try at least, I promise I’ll stop if it’s too much for him.”

Reckoning that it is already too much for his boy, Robert is torn. Yes, of course he wants this investigation to proceed, he wants Rebecca to leave them the fuck alone, he wants to be safe in his own home again. But on the other hand… Seb. Failing him is unforgivable.

Robert sighs again and rubs his forehead, desperately searching for the right decision.  

Aaron’s eyes are big and bright, looking up at him. Maybe it’s that feeling that this detective is one of the good guys. Maybe it‘s what happened last night. 

“Okay,” Robert finally gives in and only hopes he made the right decision. 

Aaron smiles at him and it puts Robert immediately at ease. He reminds himself of trusting Aaron. 

“Let‘s do this,“ Aaron mutters and walks to the backdoor.

“Aaron, this isn‘t protocol-“ Barton protests weakly behind him.

“Oh, fuck your protocol,“ Aaron tells him bluntly and so much for professionalism. “Gonna record it, are you happy now?“ Voice dripping with sarcasm, he waves his phone.

Finn Barton looks like a sulking child himself and doesn‘t answer. Robert watches Aaron walking into the backyard and he knows he shouldn‘t be, but he can‘t help but feel a little impressed. 






Chapter Text

Aaron can’t deny his heart breaking a little when he steps outside and sees Seb on the swing. He looked so frightened back in there and Aaron feels the urge to throttle Finn for being such an insensitive twat. As if you can talk to a little chap like you do to a grown up. Finn’s charm obviously only works on adults. 

The damage is done, Seb is already scared - and therefore not the most reliable witness. But still the best shot they have at this point. Letting out a harsh breath, Aaron tries to clear his mind while he walks over to the swing and makes sure his phone is recording. He casually leans against the metal pole next to Seb . 

“Sorry for my colleague,” Aaron starts, “he kinda sucks.” He hopes a little joke might break the ice, but of course it’s not that easy.

Seb only casts him a quick glance and then he pointedly stares away again. 

“I’m Aaron.”

He doesn’t get anything in return, but he didn’t expect it anyway. 

“Need a push?” he offers instead and when he’s met with ongoing silence he just nods to himself and bites his lip. “Yeah, thought so.” He sighs and sinks to the ground, crossing his legs and trying to get comfortable. “I bet this isn’t how you imagined the day, huh. Having to answer questions from annoying cops.”

“I just wanted to play dragons with my mate!” it bursts out of the boy.

Aaron stares at him, surprised that he actually got him to say something at least. He’s searching in his brain for any dragons movies he knows. There aren’t many. “Dragons, yeah? That’s cool,” he says slowly to buy a bit of time. “Hey, what was that one called, the black one… something with teeth, right?”

“Toothless!” Seb says, a glimpse of excitement in his voice, and he actively looks at Aaron for the first time. 

Damn, he is a cute little fella with his big eyes, strawberry blond hair and freckles.

“That’s it!” Aaron snaps his fingers. 

“You know Toothless? Did you watch Dragons?”

Well, that’ll be a bit of a stretch, but Aaron does know that there is a movie about training dragons, because little Isaac was totally obsessed with it a few months ago and one time when Aaron was babysitting his little cousin he switched it on. And then got busy on his phone, not really paying attention to the stuff on screen. 

“My nephew loves it. He’s five now.”

“I’m five too!” Seb grins. 

It’s not like Aaron doesn’t know that already, but since Seb finally seems to relax and open up, he makes a surprised face, hoping it’s not too fake. “Really? That’s great. Isaac’s birthday is in October, when’s yours?”

“November.” Seb smiles at him. “I want a Light Fury or the Night Terror for my birthday, I already have Toothless and the Night Terror looks really scary, so maybe the Light Fury would be cooler and it would also be a friend for Toothless and everybody needs a friend, so I’ll probably want the Light Fury a bit more that the Night Terror.” Aaron nods along as if he understands any of the stuff the boy is rambling about. Seb suddenly laughs, like he just thought of something. “Or Grump. He’s funny.”

“Sorry we crashed your dragons play, mate,” Aaron says, attempting to carefully steer the conversation back to the questions he has. 

The smile dies on Seb’s face. “I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up,” he says, resigned now. “I’m never allowed to go on playdates.” He hangs his head. 

Aaron’s heart breaks a little more in that moment. He’s not sure how to respond to that if he’s honest. 

“I hate my daddy!” Seb hisses all of a sudden, his little face twisting with fury. 

“Hey, whoah. No, you don’t,” Aaron says and holds his hands up. “Your dad is a good dad, alright?” Seriously, Robert’s love for his son is obvious and he would do anything for him, the thought alone turns Aaron’s insides to mush. He had no idea he’d find that endearing, but damn. He does. 

“He never lets me do anything !” Tears are shimmering in the kid’s eyes. 

“That doesn’t make him a bad dad. He cares about you.” For a brief moment Aaron thinks about all the horrible stuff he’s seen at work, men hitting their spouses and their kids, torturing them in unthinkable ways, abusing them.

A memory of Gordon is flashing up in his mind, he shuts it down before going down that route any further.

“Believe me, I know a bad dad when I see one.” His voice shakes a little and he clears his throat. “I’m a cop, remember?” Aaron reminds Seb and he puts on a reassuring smile. “I know who’s a good or a bad person, it’s part of the job.”

The boy still looks sceptical. 

“Also, come on, you don’t mean that, you don’t really hate him. You’re just angry right now.” 

Seb thinks about that and eventually he just shrugs. Of course he doesn’t hate his dad. Aaron would bet his year's salary that Robert and Seb are usually thick as thieves. 

“I totally get it. You planned that awesome playdate and now you’re stuck with me. I’d be pissed off, too,” Aaron jokes. 

This time the tactic of distraction works. Seb slaps his hand on his mouth and snickers. “You said ‘pissed off’!”  

Aaron makes a show of gasping in shock. “Do you think your daddy will give me a TV ban?” 

Seb keeps on giggling and Aaron smiles along, relieved that he somehow managed to build a connection to Seb. Now might be a good moment to push the conversation forward. Aaron gives him a few more seconds before he casually asks: “Speaking of telly. You like Paw Patrol too, don’t you? Besides dragons?” 

Seb nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, I’m, like, the biggest fan! Even bigger than Simon.” While Aaron still wonders if Simon is another fictional character or maybe a real life person, Seb keeps talking: “Marshall is super funny because he’s so clumsy, but I like Chase the most. And Rocky. Don’t lose it, reuse it!”

That… doesn’t say anything to Aaron, but he tries to keep a neutral expression and hums a few times. “Your balloon yesterday, which dog was it again?” So smooth Aaron, he thinks, pleased with himself. 

“It was Chase. But the mean woman cut it off!” Seb exclaims, still upset. 

“That’s really mean!” Aaron affirms. “Did she say why?”

The boy shakes his head. “No, she just said that the man told her to do it.”

Without even realising, Seb just made a very important statement and Aaron has to force his eagerness back down when he asks: “She said that? What exactly did she say?” 

“Just that she’s sorry but the man told her to do it.” 

Aaron’s mind is already running a mile a minute.

A man .

Does that mean they are dealing with a male stalker? Women are often stalked by an ex partner from the other gender, but regarding men the data isn’t that explicit. 

And what does that mean regarding Rebecca? Robert was so convinced it was her and Aaron thought she was shifty. But then again - she was at the station all afternoon, that’s a fact. That was probably the best alibi in the world, wasn’t it? 

Still…

It’s too early to rule her out. That man might be an accomplice after all.

Being caught up in his thoughts, Aaron is surprised by Seb’s next words. “I’m sorry,” the boy whispers.

“Hm?” he frowns, confused. “Bout what, mate?”

“The other man said it’s important that I remember stuff…” Seb trails off, looking miserable and suddenly Aaron gets it, why he was so tense earlier, why he ran out of the house.

“It’s okay if you can’t remember anything more.”

Seb just sniffs quietly in response. 

“Honestly. Cop promise. It’s normal that our brain doesn’t memorise everything.”

“It just… it all happened so fast! There was this lady and she talked to me and suddenly she had scissors and I was so scared, but she didn’t hurt me, she just cut off the balloon and it flew away and I was so sad and then she was gone again.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. But you remembered something really important. What she said. That’s really helpful.”

“Yeah?” Seb asks, full of hope.

“Absolutely.”

They are both silent for a moment, both following their own train of thoughts.

“Daddy says the woman could be dangerous. Do you think she’s dangerous?”

Aaron thinks about the promise he gave Robert not to scare Seb and the last thing he wants for the kid is to live with the constant fear there’s a scary woman out there, threatening innocent children on playgrounds. “Probably not. I dunno,” he says truthfully and adds: “Yet. But you don’t need to worry, because I will find out, I promise.” Okay, maybe he has watched too much CSI:Miami, Aaron thinks, cringing at his own Horratio-Caine-phrase. Jesus. 

Bless Seb though, oblivious to adult crime TV, smiling gratefully at him. 

“Hey, sitting on a swing without swinging is boring,” Aaron states, gets up and pats the dust off his numb arse. Good god, he’s getting old. 

He gives Seb exactly 2 seconds to protest, but when the boy doesn’t stop him, Aaron gives him a few pushes. 

A moment later, they decide to go back inside and he is not surprised to see Robert standing in the frame of the backdoor, watching them with an unreadable expression. Aaron kinda assumed Robert would keep an eye on them after what happened inside with Finn.

He doesn’t take it personally. It’s just more proof of how much Robert cares about his son.  

In a much better mood now, Seb hops inside, shouting a quick ‘hi daddy’, while Robert brushes his hand quickly over his red hair. 

“So, how much of that did you hear?” Aaron asks, walking up the couple of steps to the backdoor. He just hopes Robert missed Seb’s little outburst, but one look at the man confirms that he hasn’t.

Robert looks worn out. “Enough.”

“You know he didn’t mean it, right?” Aaron says quietly, stepping closer. “Kids say all kinds of stuff when they’re angry.”

“Yeah, sure. I know.” The blue-green eyes tell a completely different story than the words. Robert is the worst liar on Earth. 

Without thinking, Aaron takes another step closer and puts his hand on Robert’s arm. He just needs to set this straight. “Robert…”

“Aaron?” Finn interrupts them, his eyes fixed on Aaron while he approaches them. “Wise needs us at the station.”

Aaron jumps back like he burnt himself, feeling caught. And everything he wanted to say dies on his tongue just like that. He actually forgot for a moment his partner was here at all and that’s saying something, given Finn’s, well, wearisome persona. 

“Kay,” he mumbles and then he quickly glances at Robert. “We are going to contact you soon to discuss the case and see if we can identify other possible suspects.” Aaron hates formal talking, it’s not what he really wants to say to Robert right now. It sounds false and stiff and Robert must hear it too, because he’s acting awkward as well. 

“Sure. I’ll see you out.”

Seb, now playing with some Lego, waves at him on their way through the living room and Aaron waves back. He only talked to him for like 20 minutes, he barely knows Seb, but geez, he likes that boy. The mere thought of someone hurting him, causes a strange pain in his stomach he can’t quite describe. 

At the front door it feels like Robert wants to say something, but he’s holding back and Aaron kinda wants to say something himself, but he doesn’t either. It’s weird. Tense. Or maybe it’s just Aaron. He’s usually good at reading people, situations, behaviour - but right now he feels a little lost and he’s not even sure why! 

Then Finn Barton is rattling off his standard monologue about being available, blah blah. 

Aaron wishes he could be alone with Robert and just talk freely, like they did last night.

When he gets into the car’s passenger seat, he turns his head back to the house, seeing Robert standing in the doorframe, looking back at him. He wishes he could have told him that he’s doing a great job as a father and that everything’s going to be fine, because Aaron is going to find that stalker and make them stop. 

He makes the silent vow to himself instead.

Finn starts the engine. “So? Did Seb say anything?”

Aaron has to force himself to not look back over his shoulder back to Robert as his partner drives down the lane. “Yeah, he couldn’t remember what she looked like, but apparently the woman mentioned a man who told her to do it.”

“So we’re looking for a man now. Rebecca White’s off the hook,” Finn muses.

Aaron wouldn’t go that far. Rebecca White stays shifty in his eyes, but yes, they’ve got another lead to follow now. He stays quiet though, not interested in getting trapped in an argument with Finn. 

“When I joined the police I never thought I’d investigate balloons,” his partner sighs and shakes his head. 

Nothing new here, just Finn missing the bigger picture. Again.

This wasn’t about a cut off balloon, it never was. It’s about an obsessed stalker trying to show domination, to show their presence, their omniscience of what’s going on in Robert’s life. And also to demonstrate how quick and unseen they could catch Seb if they really wanted to. They could have taken him easily yesterday, but they didn’t. Everything was just another calculated  manoeuvre to unsettle Robert, a little bit more with every passing day. 

Again, Aaron doesn’t share his thoughts, wondering once more how Finn ever made it this far in the force. 

“What does Wise want with us?” he asks to focus on the possible new task ahead. 

From the corner of his eyes he sees how Finn presses his lips together and grips the steering wheel tighter. That doesn’t bode well. 

“Finn,” he hisses sharply and frowns at his partner. 

“I just had to interrupt, alright?” Finn exclaims, confirming Aaron’s suspicion that their Chief of Police doesn’t need them at the station at all. Finn just made it up. “You were crossing a line!”

“I was not-!” Aaron starts, anger bubbling inside of him he nearly chokes on the words. “I didn’t cross anything!”

“Oh, please! Aaron! I know you. You totally were.”

How Aaron hates being called out. God, he bloody loathes it. “At least I got the information out of the boy,” he sneers. He feels trapped on the stupid passenger seat, forced to be passive and with nowhere to go.

“No more private meetings with Sugden. We’re going to stick by the rules from now on,” Finn demands. 

A part of Aaron wishes he could say something back like, ‘I always stick to the rules’, but who is he kidding. That’s horse shit. He doesn’t stick by the rules, rules are there to be bent. As long as the law isn’t being broken in the process and you’re getting the desired outcome, who the fuck cares, alright? 

“We have to rely on each other,” Finn goes on, calmer now, soft almost. He probably mistook Aaron’s angry silence for agreement. “We have to trust each other.”

Aaron just stares out of the side window, sulking. A few minutes later, his phone is buzzing. His private phone in his back pocket, not the work mobile in his jacket. He pulls it out and is surprised to see the name ‘Robert Sugden’ on the display. He subtly angles the phone away from Finn to read the text message. 

 

Sorry you got into trouble with your partner because of me.

 

He keeps reading the line over and over, slowly relaxing into his seat and feeling that pleasant warmth growing in his belly again. 

Finn gave him hell for last night, threatening to go to Wise and tell him everything. Aaron also got a long lecture about rules, protocol and all that.

 

no worries

 

Immediately the app tells him that Robert is typing another text. It comes in a few seconds later.

 

And Aaron? Before I forget it…

 

There is a little pause and Aaron starts wondering what he’s gonna possibly add now. The phone vibrates in his hand again. 

 

TV ban. One week. 

 

He thinks back to the conversation with Seb earlier and barks out a laugh, his foul mood completely forgotten. Robert really has a wicked, dry sense of humour which Aaron likes a lot.

“Who’s texting?” Finn asks casually. 

Aaron glances at him, the words of trusting each other still echoing in his head. He shoves the phone back into his jeans and says: “Just my mum.”

They are sitting in Jason Wise’s office, telling him about what they’ve got so far, which is embarrassingly little to nothing and the chief listens to their recordings with closed eyes and folded hands, the straightened pointers pressing against his chin.

When they are listening to the conversation he had with Seb, Aaron shifts awkwardly on his chair, staring at the dirty carpet. The chat was private for most parts of it, at least that‘s what it felt like - still feels like - and now it’s on display for his partner and boss.  Aaron doesn’t like it.

Especially when the part comes where they talk about bad dads and Wise blinks one eye open to peer at Aaron.  

His Chief knows.

Among colleagues it’s unusual to sniff around in the others' pasts, but of course Wise knows everything about everyone on his team, even if someone got as much as a parking ticket, simply because it’s part of the job. He knows about the file with Aaron’s name in it, a file he promised to keep secure  and to never broadcast at the station back in a confidential talk at the very beginning of Aaron’s career. 

Aaron stubbornly doesn’t look up from the floor. His leg is bouncing again.

“So…” Jason draws the word when the recording stops, “our new main suspect is that unknown male, is that correct?”

“Yes,” says Finn and at the same moment Aaron starts with an uncertain: “Well…” 

His chief and his colleague are frowning at him. “Go on,” Wise orders calmly. 

“I wouldn’t completely rule her out, sir.”

“And why is that? As I understand it, she has an alibi for the last incident and the witness spoke about a man.”

“I know, but…” Aaron struggles for words. 

Rebecca White’s behaviour and the fact that she knew about Robert living in a townhouse. The way she smugly looked at Aaron. The little smirk as if everything was just a game for her. But it‘s nothing Aaron actually could put his finger on, it’s just his gut feeling. How can you explain something that doesn’t seem logical? 

In the end it doesn’t matter what he wants to say anyway, because Jason Wise doesn’t wait for him to elaborate. “Focus on that man from now on.”

“But -”

“No, you listen, Dingle. So far we have been flying under the radar of Lawrence White and that's how we keep it, because it ends here. We have a new lead, we follow that.“

Wise demonstratively leans over to his computer, letting them know they are dismissed without actually saying it.

Aaron grinds his teeth with almost unbearable frustration. Lawrence White.  

All are equal before the law.

Except Lawrence White.

He has never met the famous media mogul in person so far, but he hates him. He hates the power White holds over so many domains throughout northern England and he hates even more how his own boss draws in his horns because of it. It’s a huge disappointment. The Chief Inspector gave his order and he’s not known as someone who backpedals, so this argument is lost. 

Goddamn, Jason Wise was - is - like a secret father figure for Aaron, a man he looks up to, a man he admires and wants to be like. Not that he’d ever admit it, of course. 

On their way back to their desks, Aaron is still pissed off. When he gets extra silent, it’s always a tell-tale sign. Which his colleague is unnervingly oblivious to, although they have been teamed up for a while now and he really should know Aaron well enough by now, but Finn keeps on rambling about how good it is to have a new, fresh lead to follow. Aaron breathes deeply through his nose to gather strength. 

“I‘m gonna e-Mail Sugden to send us a list of possible suspects,“ Finn says. “Now that we are looking for a man, it‘s not a relationship related crime, it might be one of his former colleagues or clients.“ He sits down at his desk, takes his glasses off to polish them. 

“Who says it can‘t be relationship related?“ Aaron asks, irritated. He shoves a pile of loose paper to the side to get access to his keyboard. 

“Well, uh… isn‘t that obvious?“ Finn blushes.

Ah. Just because someone was with a woman and has a kid, they must be straight, right. 

“As far as I know Sugden is bisexual,“ Aaron clarifies, trying  - and failing - to hide his annoyance. 

“How would you know?“ Finn asks, a suspicious frown forming on his forehead. 

Aaron thinks back to the embarrassing-as-fuck-moment in the middle of the night in Robert‘s kitchen. “I observe , Finn,“ is all he says.

His partner mulls over the thought, looking sour for some reason and then he wants to know: “What are you doing then?“

“Calling Rebecca White,“ Aaron says easily and grabs his phone. “To tell her we are following another lead.“

At that Finn actually smiles at him. No, he downright beams at him. It looks like he‘s almost proud or something. Which is weird as hell. Aaron wants him to stop looking like that.

“What?“

“Nothing. Just glad you‘re following the Chief‘s order. I thought you‘d… you know…“ Finn trails off and makes a funny hand move.

Aaron does not know. He also doesn‘t want to know.

Of course he’s gonna tell Rebecca White about the unknown male. 

To cosy her along.

Hoping she might get careless and slip up somehow.

“Well, Finn,“ Aaron smiles at his partner across their desks, “orders are orders.“

He‘s screaming into the pillow and the slick hand slides off his dick. The prostate massager is still vibrating in his arse. 

The hot image of Robert kneeling behind him and fucking him into the matress is still in his head. 

Aaron collapses on his bed with a sob, right into the mess he just made, but he can‘t care about that yet, because his head is still dizzy and feeling light, no coherent thoughts possible. 

It takes a moment until his mind has rebooted and he finally gains enough control of his muscles to pull out that toy at sloth speed. The following shower feels amazing, but he can‘t stop the guilt creeping up inside of him now the afterglow wears off.

Fantasising about Robert is admittedly a problem.

Even he knows that. Without needing Finn lecturing him, thanks a lot. 

Fuck. 

He really needs to get laid for real. To fuck Robert out of his system, so to say. 

With the towel still wrapped around his waist, he walks back into the bedroom and sees the display of his phone shining bright in the dimly lit room until it goes black. 

Aaron picks it up, ignoring the two new missed calls from his mum, but staring at the three whatsapps he got. 

From Robert.

His heart suddenly beats loud and fast in his throat when he opens the app to read the full messages.

 

When I tucked Seb in, he told me that he loves me.

Thank you for today. What you said means a lot.

Anyway, sorry for disturbing your night. Again. Haha. Good night, Aaron. 

 

Aaron stares at his phone, frozen on the spot, not sure if seconds or minutes are passing. All he knows is that his heart rate won‘t slow down, his hands are clammy and his belly feels warm again.

He throws the Samsung back on the nightstand and rubs his face to cool down his flaming cheeks. Then he makes a quick and sloppy job of changing the sheet. 

When he slides under the cover, he takes his phone again and bites his lip, thinking. He types in three different replies that he immediately deletes again, before he finally settles for:

 

night robert x

 

The TV stays off and Aaron quickly falls asleep.