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Aaron means it, Ben is lovely. He’s kind, funny, he cares about what Aaron has to say. When Aaron had first told him about Jackson, he’d listened, hadn’t judged, told him how sorry he was to hear that Aaron had been through that. He’d been the same hearing about Robert, too. Endlessly kind, supportive, all the things a partner was supposed to be without ever demanding anything in return.

He didn’t deserve this.

Aaron was ducking into an old barn in an abandoned farm at three o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. As far as anyone in the village was concerned he was out on a pickup and would be back in a few hours. In time for dinner, he’d told Ben on the phone, then pretended like he couldn’t wait for the lasagne he was making. It had been a lie - all of it. He was meeting Robert.

He’d told himself that first time at Vic’s had been a mistake, a final goodbye if anything. It was the closure he’d needed to be able to fully move on and be with Ben properly without thoughts of Robert looming over them. But when Robert had called a few days later asking if he was free for drinks in Leeds, Aaron needed no time to come up with an excuse. Or the next week, when Robert had booked a hotel, or four days after that when he’d shown up at the Scrap Yard after closing and taken Aaron apart on Jimmy’s desk. 

It wasn’t like they hadn’t done this before. He knew how to be careful, how to stop people asking questions, what would and wouldn’t raise suspicion. But it was different this time. Before, Aaron had been just a kid. Robert was fit and dangerous and Aaron had been more intrigued than anything else. Falling for him had been a total accident, something about seeing the man behind the mask, getting to witness the way Robert could be when he truly cared about someone, being in the eye of the hurricane. It was about the sex, the physical connection, but it was also about so much more.

Nothing was more natural than being with Robert, nor more comfortable. Robert being back in the village felt fated, or maybe a bit inevitable. Either way, this, the sneaking around, as guilty as Aaron felt every time he looked at Ben, and as much pain as he felt when he was away from Robert: it still felt right in the same way it had all those years ago.

“Rob,” he said into the darkness of the barn, eyes straining to see.

He jerked violently when he felt two hands grab his shoulders from behind, then took a deep sigh of relief when he saw it was only Robert, laughing at him. His eyes creased, drawing out the wrinkles that had appeared beside them in his absence. His smile was bright and big, but open wide enough to reveal the chipped tooth he’d received in a fight. Aaron’s heart soared and sunk for him all the time in equal measures, and he had to tell himself not to dwell on all that time they lost.

“You’re a prat,” Aaron huffed as Robert doubled over, holding his stomach. Aaron shook his head and looked solemn. “Oi, if you don’t kiss me right now, I’m leaving.”

Robert was still grinning as he stepped forwards but the laughter had died down. “Someone’s prickly today.”

Aaron shrugged. “I’ve been wanting you all day.” He didn’t say that he felt like he’s been wanting him all his life, but he thought it.

Robert’s smile softened at that, and he finally took Aaron by the waist, pulled him forward and kissed him. And this was the scary thing, because when Robert’s lips touched his, Ben and Liv and life beyond the two of them felt so far away he didn’t even worry about guilt, or breaking anyone’s heart. There was just him and Robert, and that felt more right than anything.

Robert walked him backwards into the barn until they reached a wall. Aaron’s back hit it and he groaned in the back of his throat before pulling Robert in closer by the back of his neck. It wasn’t gentle, but then they never were these days. The days of soft morning kisses, of hands that roamed gentle across skin, of being pressed into a warm bed were long over. Aaron would take what he could get, but some days he did long for that softness back.

Robert pulled away slightly. “ Do you trust me?” He asked against Aaron’s lips.

Aaron stared at him like he was crazy. Aaron trusted Robert more than anyone else in his life. He trusted his kisses, his promises, his ‘I love yous’ more than anything else. He answered a mere “yes,” and hoped that the true extent of how he felt would come across in that.

Robert’s answering grin made him think that perhaps he had understood. He stepped to the side and pulled on an inconspicuous handle. It was rusted enough that it blended in with the wood of the barn wall. Robert raised his eyebrows pointedly before swinging what turned out to be a door wide open. He jerked his head, still wearing the loutish grin, gesturing for Aaron to go in ahead of him. Aaron gave him an unimpressed look, before heading through the door.

Inside, Aaron’s breath caught in his throat. The barn was decorated with fairy lights, blankets were laid out across the floor, a bottle of champagne and two flutes sat in the corner. From a speaker next to the champagne, a song he vaguely recognised started playing. Aaron was in awe. He wasn’t usually touched by the romantic cliché, many a time Ben had surprised him with dinner and flowers and candles, and it’d never made him feel like this. But this, somehow, felt different.

“Robert, this…”

“I know it’s a bit cringey, but I saw it in some stupid chick flick Vic had me watching and-“ 

Aaron silenced him with a kiss, pulling Robert into him as close as possible. “Shut up,” he muttered against Robert’s lips, before tugging them along to the blankets.

There was nothing graceful about the way they fell to the floor, barely detaching for even a second. Adrenaline was thrumming in Aaron’s veins. Robert’s hands reached under Aaron’s jacket, caressing the skin, sliding his hands up to Aaron’s chest. Aaron wondered if there would ever come a day when Robert’s hands on him didn’t feel electric.

Growing impatient, Aaron pushed Robert’s suit jacket off his shoulders. He’d been so thin when he’d first arrived back in the village, but he was filling back out again, and the suits were fitting him nicely. The shirt below didn’t quite strain against the muscles yet, but Aaron was happy to note that he was getting there. 

He pressed Robert back down onto the blankets, laying partly on top of him as he chased the deft fingers on Robert’s buttons with lips and tongue. Robert had his hand buried in Aaron’s hair, tugging softly every now and then, just to remind them both that he was there. Finally, when all the buttons were undone, Aaron brought his mouth back to Robert’s, kissing him as he arched off the floor to let the shirt be pushed from his shoulders. 

Robert reached for the hem of Aaron’s jumper in turn, and Aaron didn’t even flinch as Robert pulled it up over his head. He always did, with Ben. Always had that moment of fear about revealing his body, his scars, the most vulnerable parts of himself. Even after all this time, he was never fully comfortable with it.

He grew cold at the thought, always did whenever he thought of Ben like this, Robert’s hands stroking up his back, lips at his neck. The guilt was icy in his veins, but it was numb in the face of Robert, here, under his thumb as he cupped his face to kiss him and drive thoughts of Ben and the life beyond this moment right here from his mind. Because as much as he felt sorry for the way he was treating Ben, he felt this so much more. Robert’s hands on his skin, fumbling with the button on his jeans, reaching in to cup him through his boxers just to make him whine high in his throat. The shallow breathing, faces so close they couldn’t tell whose air was whose. Robert had given him his last breath once.

Ben was far away, both in distance and in heart. Ben was a safe choice, Robert was dangerous, always had been. Robert always meant heartbreak, judgement, remorse. But as Robert pressed their naked bodies together, he couldn’t help but want this. Want more . He wanted to crawl inside Robert’s skin, make a home for himself in his rib cage, be with him always. They couldn’t get close enough. The atoms between their lips was too much space. Kissing was more important than air, and later, when they were both satisfied, for now anyway, and Robert cracked open the champagne with an embarrassing pantomime, Aaron wouldn’t know which tasted sweeter.