His eyes open, heavy. He feels Ben’s arm plastered around his stomach, he tenses a little bit at it. He tries to shut his eyes, sees those green blue’s staring back at him, and suddenly Ben’s voice snaps him out of his daze.
Aaron shakes his head, smiles tightly, “Sorry you were sayin’?” Ben just smiles, all kind and artificial, complete opposite of Robert he thinks. Ben turns to his side to face Aaron, his fingers tracing every part of Aaron’s exposed skin but one.
It’s not as though he hasn’t seen them before, Ben’s just never talked about them. Pretended that they weren’t a part of Aaron, that he was separate. Whereas Robert, he embraced them, he kissed every single scar, calling him beautiful over and over and over.
“I was sayin’, we should get some brekki, I’m proper famished!” Aaron vacantly nods.
Ben lifts himself off the bed, pecks Aaron’s lips with his own, and heads to the washroom. He’s not moved in, but sure likes to make himself at home. Aaron's changed the sheets, he’s tucked picture frames of Robert and him into his drawer.
He’s taken their wedding photos off the mantel, and hidden their entire wedding album in the back of his attic.
Everything, photos of Robert, to Robert’s clothes. He almost laughs at how angry he was, how he always seems to do and say things in the heat of the moment, and then tries to retreat and fix everything away.
So they ended up where everything else of Robert’s end up. In the attic, and in a locked box in the very lonely part of his heart. That’s where he’d like to keep him.
He hears a cry from the next room. “Seb…”
It’s been a few weeks since everything’s happened, and Seb’s really been a little trooper. It’s been tough, having to tell his four year old a couple of times that his mummy and Ross are up in heaven now.
The nightmares, the clinginess, it’s been a lot for the both of them to handle. Liv’s been no help, with her own issues taking up the space in everyone’s life, Seb’s really been getting the least attention, when he’s meant to be Aaron’s sole priority right now.
He feels this pang of guilt hit him right in the stomach, and slowly makes his way to Seb’s room. Ben’s been great with Seb, he really has. Except… he’s never alone with him. He never wants to hang out with Aaron when he’s parenting Seb. It’s only when Aaron’s being the fun parent, when they’re watching films, or going out to get dinner. Obviously Aaron can’t exactly blame him, he can’t just expect Ben to start coparenting Seb with him out of nowhere.
“If she’s your family, she’s my family too.” He hears that echo of Robert’s voice. Robert took Liv in when he didn’t have to, when no other person would.
Seb has a thumb in his mouth and tears in his eyes, and Aaron’s heart shatters. This little boy, and now everything’s changed for him. “Hey little man…” He steadily approaches Seb’s bed, bending down to his knees at Seb’s eye level.
“You have another bad dream?”
Seb nods his head, “You went away… Like mummy, like daddy Robert!”
If that doesn’t create a Robert sized hole right where his heart is supposed to be, he hoists Seb in his arms and tenderly cradles his son pressing a kiss on his blonde little locks.
His voice trembles as he reassures his little boy, “I’m not goin’ anywhere alright? Not ever!”
They start the day like any other, Seb and Aaron waddle down the stairs in much of a jaded state, with Liv and this mess she’s been in, he’s not really had a good night's sleep in… well. Weeks. The more he tried to help her, the more she’d pull away and get worse. It was this endless cycle, and Sandra was certainly no help.
Certainly not safe for Seb to be around.
Ben’s been there though. He has, Aaron reasons. That’s why the mill doesn’t look like a complete pigsty, he scans the living room ripping into his burnt toast. The sofa that Robert bought, his jacket thrown over it, but the pillows fluffed and orderly. There’s only a few unwashed forks and spoons left laying in the kitchen sink. The rug is vacuumed though Aaron’s mini basketball, and Seb’s giraffe both rest at their usual spot, he reminisces how pristine Robert liked the place.
His thoughts are interrupted by Liv, stumbling through the door, him immediately ushering Seb up the stairs, “Go eat your toast in your room yeah?” Seb pouts a little but heeds at Aaron’s seriousness. Ben dashes to her aid, in return pushing him off, huffing at Aaron’s direction.
His toast, now abandoned, he sighs, “You gonna tell me where you were all night or?”
Liv glares at him, if looks could kill. “None of your bus- business, this my.. It's my house. Can’t… tell’ me what to do.” She slurs out, not even trying to hide the fact that she is entirely off her face. Ben just stands there, haplessly.
Just as Liv is about to open her mouth, for what he’s sure are vile and deplorable words, her eyes widen seeing her bags at the foot of the stairs.
Instantly, even in a drunken state, she’s somehow able to switch her tears on. That act of being helpless and sorry. Aaron’s seen it one too many times, and that’s just not going to cut it anymore.
She is gasping as she tries to reason, “Aaron you… you can’t just. Kick me out, you can’t. Look okay I’m sorry. I’ll stop, you’ve got to believe me I’ll stop. Please, Aaron I can’t lose ya!”
Aaron catches the time on the clock, and hears a car pull up to the driveway.
“Perfect, must be her…”
Ben almost trips as he flinches his back towards the wall as Aaron glides past him. He pulls open the door, to let a woman with strawberry blonde shoulder length hair, bright green eyes, and a weary smile, “C’mon in, thanks for comin at short notice. Hope it wasn’t an inconvenience.” Aaron, steps aside to let her inside.
The woman analyses the room, before her eyes land on Liv.
Her aunt steadily places her hand on Liv’s arm. “Hiya love.” She sounds older than she looks, Aaron surmises.
Liv’s eyes dart between Aaron and her aunt, until he sees her face come to a realization.
She violently shakes her head in protest, “Aaron, no. You can’t do this. I’m not goin’ anywhere you can’t make me!”
Aaron stands there, tears flooding his eyes, trying to suck them back in. He can’t fall apart, this is the only way. He blows out a breath and rubs at his eyes, sniffing.
“Sorry Liv, but you did this to yourself, you ain’t cryin’ your way out of this.” His voice feels dry, though he stands his ground.
Ben hesitates when Aaron tells him to take Liv’s bags out to the car, Aaron’s deathly daggers are hard to ignore. He stiflingly makes himself useful and does as he’s told, while Liv almost turns the whole house upside down. She screams and shouts and basically ten stage griefs her way into trying to convince Aaron and her aunt to let her stay.
They stand firm in their decision though. Even if she hates them for the rest of her life, she needs to get better or she’ll lose them too.
Naturally, Liv stomps to the car, slams the door shut without a hug or an “I love you”, her eyes staring at the passenger seat, and Aaron left standing watching the blue car drive away.
He doesn’t break until the car is fully out of focal view.
Everything seems to be falling apart, and the entire weight of his sister's addiction, his mum and Paddy’s constant arguing, and missing Robert weighing so heavy on his chest he feels this blinding ache he can’t seem to shake.
He feels Ben’s hand on his shoulder, then hears the pity in his voice and storms into the house and to his room. Needless to stay he stays in his bed for the rest of what had gone from a slightly partly sunny day, to a gloomy afternoon.
It’s been at least a week or so since Liv’s been gone, and after getting an earful from his mum about not talking to her first before making such a life changing decision, that and the whole, “You took in Seb without talkin’ to us first?” he was more than content to throw himself into the scrapyard and at the garage. Vic’s agreed to take Seb for the day, he’s sure she’s spoiling him rotten.
He wonders if Ben had gotten bored at the Mill and just left, he wonders how long he’s going to stick around for. He wonders if he should stop stringing the guy along when they both know what this is.
He really likes Ben, and he wants this to work out, but there’s something in the pit of his stomach, something lurching. Something ceases him from letting himself fully engulf his heart into this… well, he wouldn’t exactly call it a relationship. He actually doesn’t know what to call them. It’s this weird line between friend and friendlier with the kid he used to bully in school.
He’s under the hood of an audi, dirty, mucky overalls be damned, when his ears perk up at yellow heels tapping right near his head. He goes to roll out, instead lifting his head a little too early, and managing to bang his head.
Seb’s little giggle stirs something soft in him, he manages to roll out from under the car and a decry of Vic holding two coffees, with Harry in a really expensive stroller he knows Diane must have bought Vic, and Seb squeezing his aunt’s hand a little too tight.
Aaron often wonders if Vic has ever been a child. Her eyes aged beyond her years, there’s this heaviness that pry’s around inside his stomach.
“Vic you can make a sound y’know!” He grumbles, except the seriousness on her face is enough to coax him onto his feet.
Her eyes, puffy and red rimmed, her lips between her teeth, “V- Vic… what’s up?”
“I… not here.”
He’s sat on the couch watching Seb make faces at Harry lying on a bouquet of blankets cushioned underneath him.
Vic makes her way down the staircase with a file in her hand.
Aaron’s stomach is in knots as a million and one god awful scenarios play in his mind.
“God Vic would you just tell me what’s goin’ on?” He snaps.
She shoves the file in Aaron’s hands, and he feels himself ready for impact.
His fingers hover over it, Robert J. Sugden, written in bold letters at the bottom right, his eyes screw shut. He shakes his head, “No… no. I’m… no. You promised me you’d stop with this. You promised.” His voice trembles.
She sighs, “Aaron…”
“No, you came to me that day and you got my hopes up. Right, you did that and then Luke just left. What more do you want me to say? What could you possibly-”
“Robert’s being released!”
Aaron’s brain just freezes. It’s like time’s just stopped, everything around him still.
He glances up at Vic, tears streaming down her puffed up cheeks.
Aaron all but laughs, “You… you can’t be serious. That-”
“I… I got this call today. It- It was his solicitar. See, after Wendy talked to Ethan, he did some more diggin’. He said it would be a bloody miracle for new reports. Then…”
She pauses for what seems like hours. “He found out one of the doctors, apparently he was paid by Luke to give false reports or somethin’. About three days ago, Luke’s conscience got the better of him so he… handed himself in.”
Aaron’s feet get the better of him, his pacing agitating Vic, “You’re gonna burn a hole in the rug Aaron will you just sit down?”
He can’t. He can’t just sit down, he can’t do anything except wonder. Everything him and Robert have been through. All of that, for what? What, was this some kind of sick test the man upstairs was trying to play on them?
His eyes gape at his son, what about Seb? He feels himself falling and falling deeper and deeper into this unknown, into this emptiness, and he can’t seem to find a way to crawl back out.
Aaron grabs Seb, and stomps out, “Aaron…” Vic’s calls now background noise, he needs to be alone right now. He needs to think.
Seb’s tuckered out on the couch, Finding Dory only halfway finished.
He stares at the mantelpiece, the absence of Robert in every piece of the house, except. This house was Robert wasn’t it? Those deathly steele stairs, the tiles of the kitchen floor, and that god awful fruit bowl on the pretentious white table.
The television, to the rug covering the god awful brown floorboards. Their room, the washroom with the weird looking frame around their mirror. Everything. Every single piece of this house belonged to Robert. His soul was still part of the Mill.
No, he shakes his head. Tries and tries to get all of Robert out of himself, out of his veins out of his heart.
He’s with Ben. Nice, less complicated Ben.
Ben who has seemed to disappear off the face of this earth, Aaron should really call him.
He pulls his phone out, his breath being knocked out of him seeing Robert’s name still in his contacts. He never actually dealt with deleting Robert’s number. Not his fault things kept coming up, whether it was his mum and her drama with the rest of the Dingles - or Paddy. Or Liv and her drinking, Luke upping and just leaving the village, Wendy talking to Ethan, who had apparently talked to Vic and Diane. There was just so much going on, he barely had any time to breathe let alone delete his hus- ex-husband's number.
He scrolls down and stares at Ben’s number. He could call him, he could ask him out for a pint. There’s so many things he could do, he closes the screen and turns the channel to Top Gear.
Tomorrow, he’ll talk to Ben tomorrow.
Aaron’s passed out, one leg off the couch and the other on top, with his arms flailing wide, the sun isn’t shining on his face like it usually is and he realized he forgot to go to his room. Again.
He feels a sudden presence and he tiredly blinks his eyes open, Seb, standing there in his little car PJ’s, with his giraffe practically glued to his chest.
The boy takes his thumb out of his mouth, “Da… you sad?”
Aaron tries not to break at that. He shakes his head, “No, no of course I’m not sad, little man. C’mere.” He picks the little boy and places him on his lap, “I am perfectly okay. I promise.”
He leads Seb up the stairs, to freshen up for the day, when he hears a knock.
That almost never happens.
Seb looks up at his dad curiously, “Go on bud, I’ll be there in just a sec okay?”
The boy quietly abides at his dad's request, and toddles to his room.
Rubbing his eyes, he saunters to the door, seeing a shadow of someone.
Loudly sighing, he lets her in. “Vic, if this is about…” He looks down, Harry, all dressed up in a little outfit with animals printed on it.
He kicks himself, how could he forget. “Oh god, the zoo. I…”
Vic politely waves him off, “It’s no problem. Besides, Ro- he’s not due until four so.”
He rolls his eyes, “You can say his name y’know, I’m not going to go off on one. He’s your brother. You’ve got a right to be excited!”
She casts her head down, shyly. “I know it’s just… I don’t want you thinkin’ that just because Robert’s around, that I care about you any less.”
Harry chooses that time to gurgle his opinion on the matter.
He guides them inside, and heads to the kitchen. “Seb, c’mon bud your aunty Viccy’s here!”
Seb almost falls dashing down the stairs. “Careful there sweetheart. C’mon, eat your brekki and then you can go to the zoo!”
They had planned this since Seb came to the Mill. Everything the boy’s been through, it made sense to do this. Besides, with some of the restrictions being lifted with covid, there wasn’t a reason not to go.
Seb just about stuffed his entire face of all the sugary delight before him, with his mouth full, “What about daddy?”
And, oh .
Aaron forgot just how perceptive his kid can be, scarily so.
Vic speaks up, noticing Aaron’s hesitance. “Well, he won’t be for another few hours, till then, we could have so much fun at the zoo. You could even buy him a little souvenir, something to welcome him home. That sounds good doesn’t it?” She bounces Harry on her lap and Seb virtually runs to his room, dragging Aaron with him.
Aaron mouths a thank you, and proceeds to help his son get ready for the day.
He waves at Vic and Moira as they try to rile in Seb and Isaac, wishing he could have gone with them. Though with Vic and Diane, he’s basically mothered into taking a break for the day and just letting everything sink in for a second.
Today. He ponders, today’s the day. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t. He’s just, he’s anxious. That’s the word, he is just anxious seeing his hus- ex-husband again.
He’s staring into the mirror, the dark circles protruding his blue eyes, he’s grown a few grey hairs, eyes a bit wrinkled. It feels like he’s aged about ten years these last few months.
Aaron ends up locking up and just taking the car, Robert’s car, not sure exactly where he’s going he just needs to get out of the village. Somehow, he finds himself stopped at a country road. At their country road.
Their first kiss, god, he can still remember the taste of Robert’s lips. Hungry and aching for Aaron’s, he remembers that heat, that feeling of rebellion that he’d not had for years. He felt alive for the first time in so long, nothing else ever even compared.
So why was he doing this, why did he keep ignoring Ben’s calls and texts, why is he avoiding him everywhere he goes, making excuses, why? The question burns a hole in his chest.
Aaron fidgets with the radio switching the channels, finally lands on one with the last lyrics of call me maybe playing.
Closing his eyes, his phone starts to ring, he lets it keep ringing.
His heart, posthastedly skips a beat. As Adele’s voice starts to serenade,
“When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love
When the evening shadows…”
Aaron’s eyes swell up with tears, recalling their first wedding, dancing away with his loved ones watching and cheering them on. That night, the night he marched to Vic’s door in the middle of the cold February night and demanded Robert come home with him.
He groans, why does everything have to be about Robert flamin’ Sugden all the time? Why is he always inside Aaron’s every single thought?
There’s an abrupt sound of another engine breaking him out of his melancholic muse.
The car behind him is obscure, and he can’t make out who’s stepping out.
As he shuts his own car door, his breath hitches, feeling dizzy suddenly.
He can’t move, terrified if he does his legs might give out on him.
“We really gotta stop meetin’ like this.”
Robert smirks, not reaching his eyes. Those goddamn ocean-like eyes he’s missed so much. He seems thinner, hair’s longer, and he’s grown some god awful facial hair hiding his freckles. Aaron tries to gather himself, failing miserably.
He has to be dreaming, this has to be a dream there’s no way,
“I… I promise I’m real, not some mirage!”
After all this time, Robert's still able to read him like an open book.
Clearing his throat, “I… I thought you weren’t due until…” , he tries to keep his tone as non-committal as possible.
Robert nods slowly, “Yeah, I uh… I sort of gave Vic a fake time, I. I didn’t want her to go through all the trouble.”
“So you lied?” It’s sort of an instinct and he regrets it almost immediately when Robert’s face falls. “Sorry… I just..”
Somehow they’re unexpectedly standing so close Aaron can feel a ghost of Robert’s lips on his nose.
He tries to look down, or the trees around him, anything is better than gazing into Robert’s eyes. “You know, actually, I was wonderin’ if you’ve got any tools on ya. The one I rented from the guy’s faulty.” Robert’s voice is intoxicating, he just about trips over his words ordering Robert to open the boot.
It’s been ten minutes, and Aaron can hardly concentrate on fixing the engine with Robert’s eyes pretty much digging into him.
He readies himself out, telling Robert he’ll have to call an actual garage because the damage to the car is severe. There are certain parts he needs that Aaron’s not got on him.
He ends up calling Cain.
“Right, so… I’m just. I should-”
He’s almost made it to the car, “Aaron…” Robert's voice once again stopping him. He’s got this hold on Aaron, that no amount of Ben’s or Alex’s ever will.
His feet are just about planted to the cement underneath him. Without turning, he can feel Robert’s presence, “Aaron…” This whisper, this plea.
Facing Robert, “You know why we’re both here. Aaron. You know.”
“Do I? Robert…. I..”
Robert grabs Aaron’s hand, something stirs in him. Something awakens, “I. I can’t.”
He all but runs, and feels Robert’s hand, and before he can even gather his thoughts, he feels Robert’s lips on his. That same electricity, buzzing through his entire body, that same invigorating sense of life stirs inside. Aaron’s kissing him back, hungrily, tirelessly, twinging through him, he needed Robert. Plain and simple.
They bite into each other, moaning and messy and perfectly imperfect. The trees around them rattle, and Adele’s voice in their ears, with Aaron’s car door open, Aaron’s heart open, and ready for Robert to ruin.
He then see’s Ben’s face in the back of his mind, that twinge of guilt, harrowing inside his gut. Aaron’s hand lands on Robert’s chest, pushing him off, “No… I. I can’t.”
Robert staggers back, eyes still frantic and starved.
“There… there’s someone else, that’s it isn’t it?”
Aaron scoffs, as he goes for the handle on the door of his car.
“No, Aaron, wait…” Robert’s hand on his shoulder, again Robert’s just under his skin, and he pins Robert against the car window. Robert, desperate and ravenous, those deep blue greens leering into his ribs.
He pushes Robert aside, getting in, seeing Robert just standing. Getting smaller in his rearview. Smaller and smaller.
“The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet”
He just keeps driving and driving until the Emmerdale sign is blaring in his face.
Aaron stops at keepers seeing Seb and Isaac rolling around in the dirt wrestling, and Moira trying to wriggle Isaac away. He smiles, thick as thieves those two.
Vic invites him in, he shakes his head, “I… Robert he…”
Seb’s at his dad's side, waving to Isaac, Aaron can’t think straight.
He had a plan, he was going to dress up, take a shower, he was going to take Seb out, and be with Ben. There was a plan, to show Robert he’s okay, that he’s doing just fine without him.
Vic scrunches her face, “Aaron… you’re not makin’ any sense.”
“I saw Robert, I saw him. At… at our layby. Vic I saw him, and then I ran. Like a coward.”
She leads both father and son in the cottage hurriedly.
The both of them are sitting at the kitchen table, in complete silence. The sound of Mickey and Friends, sipping their tea. The cottage feels smaller somehow, yet hollow.
They’ve both got creases between their frows.
Vic slowly lowers herself onto the wooden chair next to Aaron’s, “Di- what did he… I mean, is he. Okay? Wa-”
Aaron nods, it’s all he can do really.
She sighs, shoulders relaxing a little.
They both continue to drink their tea in companionable silence.
Seb saunters to the kitchen begging for sweets, and Vic’s only human, she’s such a soft touch. One, “Isaac’s doin’ my head in” and the tension sort of breaks, the two of them laughing, actually laughing from their belly and everything.
One conversation leads to another, reminiscing about their reckless teenage years, the good. The bad. The mundane.
It gets late, Seb knackered out head resting on Aaron’s robust shoulder, as they drive back to the mill. Vic locks the front door, and hears Harry through the nanny cam, and trudges up to her room, “Oh, oh… no no, shh. I’ve got ya, Mummy’s got ya!” She cradles her boy in her arms, arms that held him in that hospital bed. Gazing down at the little miracle, freckles patterning his entire little face. Eyes as green as hers and nose as round as Robert’s.
He was a Sugden through and through, just like his cousin.
As he settles, she clemently presses a kiss on his forehead and tucks him inside of his crib. Right beside her bed. Always close to her.
The door creaks shut, when she hears her phone go off. She curses at herself for not keeping it on silent, when she sees the caller ID.
No ID No NUMBER.
Her heart nearly stops.
“H- hello?” There’s just this pause, this silent breathing from the other end. Vic’s eyelids close, her mind drifting to her mum and dad bickering, arguing. She remembers them fighting a lot, then she’s back under that table, with Robert. He’s telling her to just take deep breaths, “Breathe Vic, it’s alright. I’m here.” He’d say.
She breathes, “Robert… Robert-”
“Hi Vic…” She exhales, her eyes opening, hearing Robert. Really hearing him.
She tries to keep composure as she speaks, “How… I mean, you know I could have-”
Vic can practically feel Robert nodding, “I know… I just. I didn’t know if I’d be welcome, you know?”
Tears blur her vision in an instant, “Oh Rob…” Her voice betrays her, her voice shuddering.
“This is your home Rob… You belong right here. He wants ya here!” She says it as though it’s just this fact of life, like the sky’s blue the sand is brown, and Aaron is still in love with Robert, and Robert is still in love with Aaron.
It’s a fact of life.
It’s early morning when Robert arrives at the village. Sun barely touches the horizon, with the taxi steering into the village. After refusing Cain’s surprisingly kind offer to get a ride back to the village, and insisting on at least driving him to a B&B, the car ride, being a bit awkward for starters. Cain seemed to not hate his presence.
Which he’s eternally grateful for.
The village is the same as he left it, with new faces. He supposes it’s always been that way, you leave this village, some stay, some go, and some…
“Robert, how are ya? When’d you get back?” Good ol’ Jimmy, Robert’s always liked him. He seems older, greyer. His smile not quite reaching his eyes.
Robert just waves, says he’s fine, gives a short but sweet explanation of why and how he’s out, and it seems to settle the older man a little, and casually walks towards his car.
As soon as he’s in the kitchen there’s a buffet of Pasta, Pancakes, Waffles, Meat Pies, and more. It’s a bit overwhelming to say the least and his stomach growls. “Vic… you. You didn’t have to go through all this.”
She waves her hand dismissing Robert’s hesitancy, ordering him to sit with her finger.
Vic’s just sitting across from him, her eyes a bit aged, full of sorrow, he wonders how much a person can go through and still have as much compassion as his little sister does.
“H- How are ya?” It’s barely a whisper, as though it would take the edge off the weight of her curiosity. He wants to tell her everything, he wants to tell her about the top dog Johnny boy, he wants her to know that keeping his head down was the only way he’d made it out.
He wants to tell her everything.
“I’m… I’m good. I’m fine, better now that I’m here.” He gets out, there’s a lump inside of his throat, why does he keep lying. Isn’t that what’s gotten him to this point in the first place?
She gives Robert this look, sort of like the one his mum would when he’d get in trouble if he ate sweets before dinner. There’s something she wants to say until Harry’s little cries steer her out of the kitchen.
He feels this wave of something pour over him, like a black hole trying to suck him in.
There was a time when Robert didn’t want this for Vic. He ambles his way up the stairs quietly, and leans against Vic’s door.
God, he thinks, she’s a proper mum now.
They’d be proud, and suddenly Vic’s ordering him to come inside. To meet Harry.
He dubiously makes his way inside the room. Toys on the floor, and the wall plastered with pink and blue bunny’s.
Robert’s not held a baby in more than a year, his mind wanders to Seb.
All at once, somehow, Harry’s in his arms. Everything in him breaks, “You- You’re right. He’s all Sugden innit? Aren’t ya bud?” He makes his voice all soft, as it trembles through him. Vic’s teeth are wide, but tears, present in her eyes.
Harry grabs his finger, and makes small little noises as to tell him that, it’s okay, you’ll be okay.
“Vic… I’m-” He starts to blubber, and Vic shakes her head, “I know, I know me too. But you’re here now. Home.”
Home. His mind wanders to Aaron, he wonders if he’d pretend yesterday didn’t happen. He wonders if there’s someone else. He wonders if he’s happy.
Harry takes that moment to spit up on his uncle, and suddenly they’re both laughing. They’re actually laughing, and they haven’t done that in a while. He sees that snot nosed kid he knew, he saw his sister happy again.
He wonders if he’s able to make Aaron happy again.
“Right bud, c’mere. C’mere, let me just…” Aaron tugs Seb by his little arm and ties his shoes. He checks his pockets reckoning if he’s forgetting anything. He inspects the room once again and they scurry out the door.
Aaron buckles Seb in his seat, “You ready for your first day at nursery? Eh?” Seb sleepily bobs his head.
He makes sure the front door is securely locked, turns and even from miles away, he can recognize that shape anywhere.
Robert’s eyes leering at his direction.
Shoulders are slumped, and just this thin body, Vic directing him to the cafe.
He squeezes his eyes and gathers himself. Work, garage. Drop Seb off.
He’s under the hood of a Ferrari 488 GTB, it’s red and every inch of it makes Aaron want to fix it up and just drive it around. He conjectures if Robert would want to-
“Hiya!” Ben’s at his rear, and he kicks himself; he almost forgot they had to meet for lunch today.
Aaron grins, he feels like a phony. “Hey… I. I know we’re meant to be-”
Ben, sweet, kind, uncomplicated Ben, politely cuts him off, “No yeah, I know. I just. I wanted to see ya at work. Hope that’s alright?”
Then out of his peripherals he sees, well more feels Robert, something out of a horror film comes out in him and he's just planting one on Ben, it’s quick and hard and Ben seems to somehow be into it.
Aaron’s eyes wide open. Ogling Robert, noticing him stopping in his tracks. The small barely grin falling from his face.
Robert’s eyes. The resignation in them, and Aaron feels a thousand knives stabbing at his insides.
Ben tries to deepen the kiss, and Aaron just pushes him off. He pushes him off, and apologizes.
“No, don’t be…” Ben smirks, “kinda enjoyed it! Anyway, I’ll see ya later yeah?”
Aaron doesn’t say anything, just watches Ben walk away. Feeling absolutely vacant as he does.
“So you gonna tell me what’s been goin’ on with ya? Cause ever since Sugden came back, you’ve been quieter than usual. Which is freakin’ me out, so spit it out!”
Not Cain and all, Aaron groans, “Cain…”
Cain clears his throat, taking a swig of his cigarette, flicking it between his fingers. “Look, it’s your life, yeah? What you do, I ain’t gonna stop ya. But only you know what it is you want. Or who. So put both of yourselves out of your misery eh? And me.” Cain huffs a laugh, and orders Aaron to go for his break.
If only Aaron knew what it is he wants. Maybe he’d be less of a basketcase.
He’s stirring his coffee, Ben’s going on about kayaks or customers or… something. Though his eyes are only searching for something else. He always feels him before he sees him.
Robert, walking in with Vic and Harry.
Aaron’s breath almost stops. Ostensibly pry’s his ears, perking up, Robert merely striding along posing as though Aaron’s just another person in the cafe.
They buy a bacon butty and two Americano’s, Aaron might laugh at Robert’s predictability if he wasn’t certese of this uncertainty beneath his duty to Ben and to his mum, to Paddy. To Seb. He had to try for them if nothing else. So why couldn’t he get that kiss out of his mind? Why could he still feel Robert’s body colliding with his own? Why is every single place in this village stained with their history? With their love?
He’s so completely inside his own head he doesn’t hear a loud scream, instantly more aware Robert, crouched behind the couch.
Aaron’s feet have a mind of their own and lead him towards the older man.
He brings himself to his knees, “Rob… Robert. Hey”, he cautiously places his hand on Robert’s hand. Robert’s breathing is heavy, almost wheezing for air.
Something colvuses in Aaron’s chest, strong, assured Robert, Robert with his quick wit and confidence in his strut. Stripped away completely, now this shell of what Prison has done to him. He wants to tear it all down for what they’ve done to his-
He shakes himself, focusing on just getting Robert to follow his own breath. “C’mon Rob, you can do it, just keep copyin’ me, yeah? In and out, that’s it.” He feels this crowd of people behind him, “Oi, back off. Give him some room!” He snaps.
Robert slowly eases some sort of ease, and rhythm back in his breath, “Th- thanks…”
It’s as though he finally recognizes his surroundings and himself.
Aaron doesn’t try to stop him running out, leaving Vic with a despondence in her eyes not even he could erase.
Then there’s Ben, sort of standing there with a mix of confusion and betrayal etched on his face. He sneers at Aaron and throws his coffee in the trash, stomping out of the cafe. Leaving Aaron, at his wake.
It’s half past three, Aaron nods off from work a little early to pick Seb up.
He’s in his car though, just sitting there. Staring at keepers.
“Fuck it.” he mumbles, and strides to the front door. He waits for what seems like hours, and his breath is sort of caught in his throat when he sees who’s answered it.
Aaron’s sort of ogling, though he can’t help himself. Despite Robert’s more hollow face, much straggy frame, and longer hair, which seemed to be a lot trimmed. His freckles are more prominent now that that god awful beard’s made a disappearance.
Despite all that, Aaron can’t help gazing up through his lashes and falling deeper and deeper.
He clears his throat, “Uh… can I-” Robert steps aside letting him in.
Aaron passes through trying to obstinate the heat that rises through him, the whiff of Robert’s showergel, nearly inebriating him into temptation. Nearly.
They sort of just stand in the tv room of the cottage, neither of them really knowing what to say. Aaron musters up some balls and breaks the ice.
“I… I wanted to talk to you about Seb. About, you know. What happened. Wanted to ask you stuff too.” Robert just looks down, fidgets with the hem of his oversized collared shirt.
They take a seat on the couch, a gap between them.
Aaron, in his natural habitat, begins to talk to Robert about everything leading up to Rebecca and Ross’s accident, him receiving a call in the middle of the night, leaving out the bit where he left Ben on Robert’s side of the bed. He mentions how scared Seb was, he remembers the clinginess and then the aloofness.
“Just… What I don’t understand is how. I mean. You, cut us off. How did you even find out?”
Robert’s bouncing his leg, eyes often darting at his watch. He starts.
“Well. Wh- when I… it was hard. You know how it is.” Aaron knows. He knows it all too well. “Anyway, after I… sent the divorce papers, I knew it was the end of us. I. I knew I had no right to tell you how to live your life. So I also stopped contact. Thought it’d be easier.”
Aaron searched Robert’s face for something, anything other than this encumbrance and scornness.
He goes on, “Well, then my solicitor came to see me. It took him a few tries, but the man was relentless. Said he wouldn't stop until I saw him. He told me what happened, that child services would either put Seb in a foster home, or to Vic.”
“Truth is, as much as I love Vic, I knew there was only one person that I could see raising him. I told Wren to get any legal and adoption papers ready and I’ll sign them. I just knew I had to get Seb to you even if it was the last thing I did.”
He stalls for a bit, rubbing his palms on his thighs, inhaling as though the air in prison had been extracted from him.
Aaron’s fixated on the other man, soaking in each word. As though he won’t get a chance to again, like they’re on borrowed time or something or another.
Robert looks back up, not meeting Aaron’s eyes. “Anyway, I… Wren ended up being able to get the papers to me earlier than I expected, signed them and made sure they got to you.”
“You did all that, all of it, without…” He hitches a breath, clears his throat again.
The blondes in Robert’s hair seem a bit lighter, perhaps it’s the horrible yellow lights in the house. “You… you said you wanted to talk. About Seb?”
Aaron braces himself against the edge of the couch neck arching to his side, eyes on Robert’s hands. Those hands that have done everything for him, that have done things to him. He shudders at how dangerous his mind can be if left alone to ponder for too long.
“I… You’re his dad, I want..” He sighs. Harsh and loud, “I, it’s like this yeah? He’s got pictures of you, I’m always tellin’ him about ya. I want him to know ya. He wants to know ya.” Aaron says in one single breath.
Robert’s mouth is agape, like a fish. “Aaron… I. I don’t wanna step on any toes here. He.. Seb’s-”
“He’s yours too!” Aaron stresses. “He is. He loves the bones off ya and he’s not seen ya in ages.”
He feels himself slide over. Closer.
“Robert finally gazes back into Aaron’s eyes, probably for the first time since he’s been out. It’s as though he’s searching for something, maybe doubt? Abhorrence? Aaron tries to seem as open and honest as possible. His features laced in acceptance.
Robert smiles. His eyes, twinkling with hope. For what, Aaron’s none the wiser.
Aaron goes to get up, “I uh… I actually gotta get him. From nursery. Tell him you know.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know.” Robert whispers. He’s been doing that a lot lately, it muddles this restlessness inside of Aaron, he can’t seem to urge out.
Aaron idles his way to the door, Robert behind him.
Then Robert whispers his name, he fucking whispers his name and now he’s got Robert pinned up against the wall. He’s got his hands under Robert’s shirt, biting at his lower lip, enticing a moan out of him.
It’s heavy breaths and lingered fingers, it’s breathing in Robert as he lets Aaron ruin him in every which way. Against the wall and all.
“Aaron…” God. Why can’t he say anything else? Why can’t he push Aaron off? Say no. Why, why, why. Aaron’s head is everywhere and nowhere at once, and he is all more aware of himself. He pushes himself away.
Robert in front of him, in front of his very eyes ready to subvert himself into Aaron’s body.
He shakes his head violently, “No… no I. I can’t.”
Robert resigns. “Right… because of him.” It’s not a question.
Aaron casts his head at his feet, “I just… I can’t.”
He runs out the door, not daring to see the wound he’s created in Robert’s heart.
The bell is ringing and the swarm of children are running out, Seb the smallest one behind Isaac, hands clasped together.
He beams seeing Aaron, “Da!” Crashes himself into Aaron’s arms.
He cuddles his son a bit tighter. He wishes Seb could stay this way forever.
Moira’s been busy at the farm, so Aaron’s agreed to take Isaac for the day, he turns the radio on as the two boys talk a mile a minute in the back.
The trees drift past him, the sound of the boys and the radio becoming a bit of white noise, he starts to practice what he’s going to say to Seb in his head. How he’s going to ease his little boy into this new but familiar person back into his little life.
With everything the kid’s been through, he doesn’t dare think to put him through anything more. He’s had enough grief to deal with.
Robert though, Robert’s his dad .
They reach the village, and the two boys race each other inside the mill. “Careful”, Aaron can’t help but chuckle.
They’ve sort of built this routine, him and Seb. Aaron would get up a bit early, idle around until eight thirty, get Seb ready for nursery, and then head to the garage. They’d both finish around three, and sometimes Isaac would get a ride back to the Mill and they’d play and run around til they were well tuckered out.
Usually it would be a Disney movie, a great tranquilizer for four year olds that don’t have an off button.
Sometimes Ben would drop in unannounced, they’d make small talk and he’d eventually go home.
A pattern of events he’s sort of gotten used to. So has Seb.
It’s quarter past four when Cain picks Isaac up, he offers his uncle some coffee, “Nah, ta. Moira’s makin’ a mean dinner. So. Best get this one home! You alright though?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” Aaron argues.
Cain gives him this, I-know-everything look he gets in his eyes that annoys the life out of Aaron sometimes.
“I promise ya, I’m fine! Really.” He assures, though his uncle doesn’t seem all too convinced. He ruffles Seb’s hair, and Isaac waves at Seb, “Ta ra Seb.”
“Bye, see you tomorrow!”
Aaron lifts Seb to his chest and walks over to the couch. “So I gotta ask you somethin’ bud, and the ball’s in your court okay?”
Seb nods curiously as he gapes up at his dad.
He closes his eyes for just a second and opens them again, “So, you know how we talked about your daddy Robert? And, how, he’s come back from far far away?”
Seb nods again.
Aaron continues, “Well, how would you feel about seein’ him?”
Seb lets out a yelp of glee at that jumping on Aaron’s lap, “Yeah! I could show ‘im my drawin’s!”
Aaron’s body eases a little. “Right, go on upstairs and get some of your drawings okay?”
He calls Robert, so that he has some time to prepare, why on earth Aaron’s so nervous, he’ll never know.
They end up strolling to keepers, running into Faith who just about tries to kidnap Seb and take him back to the farm. It takes them ages to actually get there, being buried by the flock of women entranced by Seb’s Robert-like charm. It’s like none of them have seen a kid before.
Even Meena, who somehow always puts him in some sort of unease softened by Seb’s presence.
The both of them finally make it by some miracle.
Vic just about squeezes the life out of Seb, kissing and hugging him.
Then there’s Robert. Looking absolutely petrified, trembling his feet rooted on the carpet.
His phone rings, and he lets Robert and Seb have their moment.
He stares at his phone screen, answers. “Ben… sorry I just. There’s been a lot goin’ on and…”
“Look I promise everythin’ is fine. Yeah… yeah, I miss you too. When’re you due back? Right. Yeah, er. Look, are we able to meet tomorrow instead?”
He’s barely grasping a word Ben’s saying, his eyes glued to his son cemented in his ex husband’s arms. Robert’s eyes are glassy, whispering into Seb’s ear making the boy giggle. His chest burns and twists every which way, akin to the very vista before his very eyes.
“Aaron… Aaron.” He hears Ben’s voice, shakes himself a little, clearing his voice.
Ben sighs harshly, “I was sayin’ how about tomorrow then? At noon?”
Aaron halts at that, “Uh, okay yeah. Sure. I’ll see ya at seven then?”
Ben enthusiastically concurs and hangs up.
“Tomorrow at seven”, he echoes, focusing his eyes on Robert tickling Seb, the little boy's laugh residing in his ears.
He ambles back into the room and with Vic there as a buffer, it makes eating dinner at hers a hell of a lot easier. They laugh and for just a while, omitting the heaviness engulfing them. At times, Aaron’s catching just a glimpse of the old Robert, the Robert he used to know.
“It’s uh… gettin’ late, Seb could barely keep his eyes open. So…”
“Oh, well. I’m glad you both came. Aren’t we Rob?” She grins cheekily at Robert, who is entirely unaware of what his little sister’s getting at, as he agrees.
“Yeah. I- I hope you can, I dunno, come again? With Seb.” He adds hurriedly.
Aaron's eyes betray his lips, smiling at Robert softer than intended.
“Sure… we’d love that.”
He takes a slumbering, snoring Seb into his arms and strides home. Tucks him in, and heads to his room. Texts, and calls from his mum amiss.
He doesn’t sleep that night with the image of green-blue’s gazing at him, he doesn’t touch himself at the thought of tugging at blonde hair.
He just doesn’t.
The next day after dropping Seb off at nursery, he drives himself to the abandoned scrapyard for parts he needs for the Ferrari 488 GTB he’s been working on.
The scrapyard’s business went crumbling down after Robert was sentenced, with Vinny caught up in his dad’s vexation… leaving him to deal with clients, selling, paperwork and everything else. It all became too much to handle alone, and eventually he lost all clients, and had been left with an abandoned scrap that couldn’t be sold at a reasonable price to a reasonable owner.
So it became a haven for car parts that were left here.
He grabs the parts he needs and drives back. His car comes to a stop, but not at the garage.
He takes out his phone, and dials a number. The ringing causes an almost rash at the back of his neck.
An answer, finally.
“Meet me at the barn in half an hour… Our barn.”
He hangs up.
Cain won’t mind if he’s just a little late, besides. The owner of the car doesn’t need it until the end of the week. It’s only wednesday.
He sits on the pile of hay, and leans back on his elbows cranking his head. Closing his eyes.
The enormous wooden door creaking open.
“Shabbier than it used to be, no?”
He smirks, the taller much more slender man before him saunters towards him. “Has anyone told you you talk too much?”
Robert smiles, soft around the eyes. Aaron’s phone dings.
Ben: Hey, miss you. Can’t wait for our evening dinner! xo
Robert’s face falls at that, “Oh c’mon…” he mumbles. Aaron turns his phone off.
“See? Just you, and me.” He pulls Robert by the collar of his shirt and collides his lips against Robert’s.
Their bodies, rediscovering each other as Robert falls his back onto the hay.
This time it’s slow. Aaron’s languid pecks, everywhere on Robert’s body, igniting a shiver through him. Aaron begins to suck on Robert’s nipples, dragging his tongue down Robert’s middle causing the older man to wither beneath him. “Aaron… pl- please.”
“Shh… it’s okay. I’ve got ya.” Aaron continues to tease Robert. His hand cupps Robert’s shaft through his boxers.
Robert tartly groans, “C’mon Aaron… I’m not gettin’ any younger ‘ere!” Aaron snickers, planting a lingering kiss on Robert’s soft pale lips.
Aaron can see a small bead of sweat forming at Robert’s temple, finally divesting and tugging the freckled man’s boxers. Robert sucks at the fingers invading his mouth greedily, a whine escaping his mouth as they enter his heat.
The hay feels sticky underneath them, though neither of them seem to mind.
“God… I. Fuck, Aaron I need ya!” Robert moans, Aaron rewards the other man with more fingers, until he’s fully submerged, Aaron flips Robert onto his stomach and enters vigorously. God, he remembers every single part, every single piece of Robert. He undulates his hips, his fingers intertwining into Robert’s as he recedes himself in and out of Robert. Their souls at long last realign, both reaching their climax.
They come out of their daze a little, Aaron tenderly winding his arms around Robert, resting his body on Robert’s. They just lie there for a while, trying to catch their breaths, letting themselves come back down to earth.
Aaron traces his fingers on the constellations of freckles on Robert’s back, trying to flout the harsh purple and blue bruises that are glued against the other man's skin.
His heart disintegrates against the feeling of anyone hurting Rob.
“Missed this.” If it hadn’t been pin drop silence Aaron would never have heard that. Robert turns on his back, Aaron pressing his lips on Robert’s forehead.
He wonders what’s going through Robert’s mind, there used to be a time he could read the other man like an open book.
It’s as though Robert could still read him though, “I… just so you know, I. I’ve managed to make an appointment with a counsellor. My first appointment is tomorrow.” There’s a glint of pride in his eyes, this blink and you’d miss it look of confidence Aaron’s missed so fucking much, he could hardly stand it.
Aaron’s mouth tugs wide, “I… I’m. You know.”
Robert’s all soft around the eyes again, and Aaron wishes he’d stop doing that, “I know.”
They don’t talk about the elephant in the room. Aaron rests his head against Robert’s chest, concentrating on Robert’s beating heart. He wants time to freeze, he wants to stay like this forever, but he can’t. He can’t because apparently he’s got a conscience, he can’t because he’s gotta get back to work. He can’t because of Ben.
Abruptly, he pushes himself off of Robert.
“Gotta get back to the garage…” His voice falters at his own expense.
Robert just nods. As though he knows what this is.
Aaron wants the world to swallow him whole.
He finds his shirt and slides his jeans to his hips.
He doesn’t look at Robert when he leaves.
The ghost of his sin, following him through the wooden door of the barn.
It’s July the fourth so it’s been a week since Robert’s been back. A week since he’s started to meet him at their secret rendezvous, a week since he’s been lying to Ben.
Ben, who’s been none the wiser at Aaron’s indiscretions, Ben who’s been nice, Ben who’s worked his way, fairly quickly in his mum’s heart. Though if he’s honest, a piece of brick would be able to work it’s way into his mum’s heart before she would let Robert anywhere near Aaron again. “He’s back and you already look miserable” , she’d said in her shrill voice with Robert sitting right there in the pub. This sort of distant look he’d get anytime someone would be talking about him or at him, usually their tone unfriendly and raucous.
Vic had said it was this dissociative disorder tied to a form of PTSD.
She’d told him at the Mill, they had tea and Robert was at therapy.
He cried himself to sleep that night. Ben’s arm’s wrapped around him, yet the bed feeling empty and futile.
Aaron’s reading news about covid and the general fucked up landscape of the world, when Ben walks in. Somehow he’s getting more and more irritable and exhausted by the other man’s sheer presence.
“Hiya…” He pecks Aaron on the head, he smiles, his knuckles whitening as he grips his phone.
Ben makes himself at home, as usual. “So… no Seb with you today?” Aaron incredulously cocks his eyebrow. “No, he’s with his dad. Why?”
The other man takes out the kettle, pouring water from the tap. “Well, I was thinkin’. If we’ve got the house to ourselves…” There’s this knowing smirk Ben sometimes gets and it creates this tensity around Aaron’s shoulders.
Aaron’s really not up for it, “Listen, I… I’m not feelin’ too well. Maybe another day?” He lies, the words slipping out of his mouth with this sort of unnerving dexterity.
Ben’s face falls at that, though he doesn’t say anything. He always does that, he looks like there’s just something he wants to get off his chest, something eating away at him. Yet he just nods and smiles, kisses him, makes small talk. It’s never more than that, and sometimes, only when he’s alone at night with Ben on Robert’s side of the bed. Only then does Aaron wonder, maybe Ben’s harboring secrets too.
They sit in silence, drinking their coffee, and as luck would have it, the bell rings.
Seb darts inside with his coloring book in his hand and colors in the other.
Robert, as always, stands just outside the foyer. Even a vampire would enter the house when invited, yet Robert’s feet stay firmly planted to the ground.
Aaron huffs a laugh, Seb’s little feet running all over the house. “Don’t tell me you gave him sweets. He’s worse than you when it comes to sugar!” Robert eyes him sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck nervously, “Yeah… I. Sort of folded. He’s really persuasive.”
Robert laughs, like an actual proper laugh. He’s gotten healthier and when Aaron looks close enough, he can see cracks of marigold shine through Robert, piecing himself together one by one. Aaron’s heart swells at that.
They do that thing where their eyes linger for a little too long, swaying their bodies.
Robert chooses to break the silence, “I should… you know.”
Aaron lightly grabs Robert’s wrist, checks to see the door behind him is closed. He demurely enfolds his lips around Robert’s, inducing a whimper from the other man. There’s something about kissing Robert in broad daylight, with no one the wiser. This excitement that rushes through him.
They part, “I’ve… booked the hotel room.” He emphasises the.
It takes Robert a few seconds, and.
Oh. That one.
He looks down going pink at the cheeks. “Right… then. I’ll see you there.”
Aaron watches him walk away. He already feels this void wash over him, the dreaded sensation running through his veins. Ben sat inside, with him and Seb.
He always gets this sense of invasion whenever he and Seb are in Ben’s presence.
Aaron inhales, and steels himself ready for a crash landing of nothingness he’s going to feel for the next hour until Ben leaves.
The hour passes slower than a herd of turtles crossing the street. Every time Ben so much as touches him, or kisses him, or even tries to swoon him with the cheesiest pick up lines, Aaron’s stomach ties up in knots.
The culpability eating away at him, simultaneously the nothingness immersing him. Killing two birds with one stone he supposes.
Seb is on the carpet on his stomach swinging his legs back and forth coloring away, way past his bedtime. He sits on the floor beside his son, he wonders, after everything Seb’s been through, how he’s just able to dust himself off. How can such a little boy have this much courage?
He thinks of Robert, he remembers every single hardship that man has been through and overcame all of it. His mum, Katie, Max, coming out, becoming a father, prison. Everything, all the things a man would decay under. Not Robert, so he expects that’s just a Sugden trait he sometimes wishes he’d had.
Aaron’s pulled out of his thoughts when he notices Seb staring at him. “What’s up little man?”
Seb pushes himself up, sits on his legs, “Da, can I tell you a secret?” Aaron nods.
“I don’t like Ben…”
Aaron’s chest tightens at that. “Wh- why not bud?”
Seb shrugs, “He’s just not nice.”
He forgets sometimes how perceptive kids can be, especially his.
The little boy’s yawn is enough to prompt Aaron to take Seb to his room, get him to properly brush his teeth and go to bed.
Aaron not being able to say no to a story. “Daddy Robert’s my favorite. Why can’t he live with us?” Seb mumbles as his eyes drift into a slumber.
Aaron brushes his hand through Seb’s hair, “I dunno son”. He whispers more to himself than Seb.
He needs a bloody tie, one that doesn’t seem tacky. He’s late and he’s not ready, so he ends up raiding his closet, landing on a burgundy tie. He does a once over in the mirror making sure there’s no plaque on his teeth, and uses about ten more ounces of gel.
He’s left Seb at Cain’s, who’s more than happy to take in the little rascal for the day. Him and Isaac get up to god knows what in the fields, and with Mack, he’s sure they’re going to cause more trouble than it’s worth up there.
He barely makes it to the hotel, the receptionist inquires, he tells her he’s under the name Jon Snow.
Walking into the same room, somehow by some miracle he was able to book the same exact room. He never believed in fate. Not until Robert really.
Robert’s on the bed, legs folded drinking a beer, “Not what I pictured you wearin’”
The blond smirked, that life was slowly making its way back into Robert's eyes, causing Aaron’s heart to do about a thousand and one flips.
“Yeah? What did you have in mind then?” Aaron’s eyes travel down Robert’s body, sitting himself down and smacking his lips against Robert’s.
Their limbs are enfolded into one another, Aaron’s head resting on Robert’s chest. Now more full, more robust. More than it was when he first arrived.
Aaron closes his eyes, “I… I’m glad you- you’re takin’ care of yourself. I’m proud of you, you know?”
Robert’s hand clutched at Aaron’s waist, “Aaron…”
Aaron gapes at him with a sort of urgency, “No, I mean it. I’m dead proud.”
Robert’s cheeks flush, he kisses Aaron’s hair, now all messy and curly.
“I know you… you don’t wanna talk about it but. How was it, really?”
With a choked breath Robert speaks, “You… you really wanna know?”
Aaron reluctantly nods.
“The first few months… I mean, they just sort of went by you know? I just went through the motions. Then, one of the top dogs in there, Johnny. He had it in for me cause I wouldn’t beat one of the inmates, I guess he wanted to initiate me into his gang or somethin’.”
Aaron stays silent, his heart racing.
“He… he ended up findin’ one of our anniversary photos I hid under my bed. You know how it is in there, kept provokin’ me n that. I ended up snappin’ one day and his boys and ‘im…” Robert’s voice fades.
“So in the end I just tried to keep my head down, do the daily chores, go outside, just. Tried to stay invisible, cause in there, it's better to be a nobody than a target.” Robert’s voice is haunted. Aaron’s tears falling onto Robert’s chest.
“That explains the bruises.” Aaron deadpans. Robert scoffs, self loathingly so. “Not all of these are from the inmates.”
Aaron nearly jumps off the bed, to do what, he’s not sure. He wants to rip apart every single person who’s caused Robert even the tiniest bit of grief. He also knows that won’t help Robert heal. “I… I’m so, so sorry Rob.”
Robert’s arms enclaps around Aaron, “Oi… you’ve got nothin’ to be sorry for. I’m the one that cut you off like an idiot.”
“I… I don’t want this to end. I want us. You know that don’t ya?” He gapes up at Robert, eyes desperate, Robert does that thing again where he goes all soft around the eyes, “I know… I also know you’ve got a big, and good heart. I know what this is doin’ to ya.” His voice breaks a little.
“Just stay with me for now, yeah?”
“Yeah. Alright.” Aaron inhales Robert in, as though he could ever forget. He’ll never forget. Not ever.
They fall asleep like that. For a while, forgetting everything, letting the world go by, this is what they’ve always been the best at.
The next morning he wakes with a restlessness in his veins.
Robert stirs and smiles seeing Aaron already with a mug of coffee in his hands. “So… we’ll have to get either a bigger bed or a bigger room next time, cause I almost fell off and landed out the window.”
He hears a ding, and takes his phone out,
Ben: Where are you? I went to your place and no one was home. Call me .
Aaron’s face betrayed himself, looking up and seeing the renunciation carved in his features.
Robert’s lips firmly pressed together, he lets out a small ghost of a smile. “It’s okay.”
Robert takes that moment to leave out the back, taking one last glance at the hotel. Watching Ben step out of his car and make his way inside. Taking his place.
He disappears into the mist of the afternoon.
He ends up at the layby. He’s sure the radio’s playing except he doesn’t adhere to what’s coming out of it. Tears obscuring his vision, the sharp pain each time he leaves Aaron, each time their kisses straggle, every single time their hands graze when he hands Aaron coffee in the cafe.
Robert wonders if this is what Aaron felt. The affair, it was the making of them, the destruction of love, then putting the pieces back together again.
He isn’t sure what’s more painful, knowing this is self destructive and doing it anyway. Or watching Aaron fall in love with someone else, as he only gets him in fragments.
Possibly in some fucked up way, both will be his demise.
Robert lets himself sob, the rain gashing down on the window, holding onto just that small part of Aaron he knows no one else has.
His heart. Robert will always have Aaron’s heart, and that’s something no one can take from him.
So he starts the engine, and drives until he reaches the village. The village that took his mum, the same village to rip away the only man he’s ever truly loved. Yet he’s somehow tethered to it, not being able to escape it.
Like Dr. Dhar has told him though, “Sometimes, you have to heal where you’ve been burned the most.”
Perhaps she’s got a point, but what good is it when you just keep getting burned. Again, and again and again.
He abandons his car at keepers, and his feet have a mind of their own and lead him back to his dad’s farm.
Everything leads him back here.
Obviously it’s changed, where the house once stood is now fields, vast and wide. Sheep and cows alike trudging around as though it’s belonged to them for centuries.
He doesn’t blame them though, it’s a pretty great place to be when it wants to be.
Robert breathes in the farm air. Bends down, grabs a fistful of sand, kissing it and letting the wind abstract it with it’s rage.
“This is my home… I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Not anymore.”
It’s a promise. It’s his promise to the childhood he’s spent in these fields.
It’s a promise to himself.
Aaron’s locked the bathroom door, hoping Seb’s still preoccupied with his picture book that Robert bought for him.
He’s not done this in a while.
It’s Robert, it’s what the older man endured these last few years, it’s Ben, and this shame he feels every time the poor sod looks at him. It’s Seb not having a mum, it’s his mum’s coldness, and her suffocation. It’s everywhere and all at once. He feels breathless, he needs something.
Aaron glares at the blade in his hand, he has to or he’ll end up doing something worse. He can’t do that to Seb, to Robert.
He closes his eyes, winces at the skin on his stomach gouging open.
The blood feels as though all his sins are escaping his body. Fleeing, as if they were never there.
“Da!” He hears Seb call to him. Quickly clearing his wound, covering it up.
Like it never even happened.
He rushes downstairs and Seb is in the kitchen trying to reach for the cereal. “Hmm, so that’s what you’re gonna have for lunch? How ‘bout I make somethin’?”
Seb’s laugh is music to his ears, “Da… you’re a ‘orrible cook!” Aaron mocks a playful aghast gasp, “Oi… I make up a mean fry up I’ll have you know.”
Seb considers and weighs his options. Ends up sitting at the kitchen table with a knife and fork waiting patiently as Aaron takes out the pots and pans.
The bacon fries on the pan, sizzling Aaron’s eyes soften around the edges with the knowledge that Seb has in every way saved his life.
He hears the door slam shut, “Ben?” Seb’s laughing uncontrollably, Ben drenched from head to toe. He’s gotta give it to the kid, it’s pretty goddamn funny. He can’t help but chuckle.
“It’s not funny!” He snaps, almost completely out of character.
Seb sobering at it, and running upstairs.
His son eclipses into his room, and Aaron shoves Ben against the wall, “You ever talk to my son again, and it’ll be the last thing you do. D’you get that!” Aaron’s voice is low and deep. Ben practically trembling nods his head, “So- sorry… rough day at work.” The apology feels desolate, that familiar pang of unease surging through him, once again.
He lets go, and Ben lets himself into the… guest bathroom? He ends up burning the toast and the bacon.
His boyfriend steps out, with changed clothes, and just.
Walks out. Not even acknowledging Aaron, no goodbye.
He engages himself into his fry up again. Squirming as he reaches for the peppers, hand pressing against his stomach.
He catches Seb crouched on the staircase quietly sobbing into his giraffe.
Aaron turns the stove off, “Hey… hey. What’s wrong?”
“Please don’t let him come back Da… he’s not good. Please!” Seb’s begging him, strained voice, Aaron snakes his arm around Seb’s shoulders, “Okay, okay he’s not comin’ back okay? I… I promise you.”
In more ways than one, he seems to be saying that more to himself than to Seb.
He can’t keep lying to himself. Cain’s voice rings in his ears,
“Only you know what it is you want. Or who.”
He knows, he expects he’s always known.
He finish making his fry up, and caresses his son's cheek, “Everythin’ is gonna be good again.”
He leaves Seb with Diane, striding to keepers, a rapidness in his step. He’s already texted Ben to talk later, he needed to get to Robert.
He bangs his fist on Vic’s door, the dark clouds brewing above, wind slowly picking up.
She answers, “Aaron… I- Robert’s not here.”
Aaron swears under his breath. “I… I really need to see him. It’s important.”
She offers him to come inside instead he refuses and searches high and low for Robert.
Where could he be?
He searches the barn, the garage, the layby, something’s not right. A voice in him keeps gnawing at him.
He goes to the pub, his mum serving pints to the regulars, “Mum, have you seen Rob?”
She glares at him and scoffs, “Robert’s a lost cause love, I dunno why you’re wastin’ your time.”
It was worth a try. He gives Paddy a look, pleading and leaden. He remains quiet.
He steps out, the rain spewing harshly on the cement, soaking him through his clothes, his hair damp and sticking to his forehead.
His phone rings, his vision muddled making the ID undetectable.
Aaron’s fingers slip a little when he answers, “Ro- Robert?”
“Guess again.” The voice is calm.
“Ding ding ding, and ladies and gentlemen we have a winner.”
He shakes his head, yelling through the rain. “Look, I- have you… have you seen Robert?”
“Actually I have.” Aaron’s phone pings and the crucialness of everything is enough to open it.
His legs all but give out. Robert, hands tied behind his back, his mouth gagged by a red cloth, at the edge of the quarry, his life literally hanging in the air.
“Look please, please don’t hurt him alright just. Please…”
Ben sighs on the other end, unfeeling and distant, “Hmm… lets see. If you make it here in less than. I’ll give you five minutes. Five minutes to save lover boy.” Then the line goes dead.
The wind picks up, the gashes of the rain falling harder obstructing Aaron’s eyes.
He fiddles with them and they drop, “Fuck… shit. Shit. C’mon.” He unlocks the door, hands shivering.
Breaking every single speed limit, he’s thankful for no cops stopping him.
He reaches the quarry with less than a minute to go.
Doesn’t bother to even shut the drivers side of the porsche.
There, before his very eyes.
Robert on his knees, wet, shivering and terror inscribed in his eyes. Ben, holding a gun to his head.
“B- Ben!” Aaron yells through the rain, “Please, just… just let him go.”
The brunette maniacally laughs, foul and odious.
“He… he’s done nothin’ to ya.” Aaron pleads.
Ben snaps his neck darting his eyes at him.
He smirks, that same one, the one that puts Aaron at this unease in his ribcage.
“You’re right. He hasn’t. You have.”
Aaron’s mind wanders a bit. “Look, I… I’m so so sorry for what happened when we were kids. But… we were only kids. I- I was goin’ through so much, stuff no kid should ever go through and-”
“Just shut up… shut up. You.” His eyes are wild, gaping wide, “You’ve still not caught on have ya?”
He warringly snatches out Robert’s gag, “Do us a favor and tell ‘im will ya?”
Robert coughs out, trying to breathe through the heavy wind, “Th- This isn’t Ben.”
He looks down, cogs turning in his head, he sees another boy, younger than Ben.
It hits him, like a fucking train. “Teddy.”
“Ah, and we have a winner! That’s right.”
His brows furrowed, mouth agape.
“Let me paint a pretty little picture for ya, shall I?” He spits, hawkishly yanking at the back of Robert’s collar.
“See. Ben was the best big brother a kid could have. He always knew how to take care of me. He also knew your mates. You.”
Everything came rushing back.
“Now, Ben was the quiet, pensive type. He was never a lads lad. You lot though, you hated ‘im for it. Faggot, queer, pansy! Ring any bells for ya?”
Aaron’s head starts to spin, “He… he was protectin’ you.”
“There we have it, wow Aaron, very good. Next you can recite your ABC’s to the class!”
He scratches the gun on his brows. “So he took all the beatin’ he took all the abuse. Kept takin’ it even when you left.”
Aaron’s head snaps up at that.
“Oh what, you think just cause you were gone, everythin’ stopped? No, it kept goin’. For years and years and years. One day, when he was fifteen, it was the day after his birthday, and I remember. I remember seein’ how. How broken he was. How every single day was a fight. He’d get bashed in the head by our alcoholic dad, and then bashed at school. There was no escape for ‘im. All because he was tryin’ to protect me.”
Aaron’s tears camouflage with the rain, wind picking up precipitation. “No…”
“D’you wanna know what he did that day? Do ya? That’s right, he locked himself in the bathroom, and I was the one to find ‘im. I found ‘im there. Lyin’ blood…”
His voice trembles at the end.
He keeps talking, Aaron’s eyes watching Robert, he can’t see clearly but Robert’s face is scrunched up. The lower half of his body wriggling.
Be- Teddy’s voice brings him back to reality, “So I grieved. I grieved for years, and then I finally found ya. I looked for the others but they're all already in the slammer.”
Aaron’s piecing it together, at last, “So you came for me instead.”
Teddy claps his hands, “Aha! Jackpot. The- the idea was to get close to ya, make your mum and your family like me, make you feel like it was real. Then take ya somewhere, and make ya beg for mercy. Humiliate ya, put it online.”
He rocks back and forth a little, as though in thought. “Then… I. You were really sorry. I. I saw that, and. For fucks sake I fell in love with ya. How pathetic. Then he came back, and ruined everythin’. It’s all ruined. All of it.” He screams, and he glocks the pistol, puts it to Robert’s head.
“So… so now. Now you have to watch the man you love die, just like I had to watch my own brother die!”
Robert’s feet find their way on the gravel, as he grabs Teddy’s wrist and the gun goes off in the air, Aaron hears the sirens getting closer and closer.
The gun goes off again.
“Rob!” Everything goes black.
He’s wired to a bunch of tubes, the monitor beeping, his eyes ache as they adjust to the fluorescent hospital lights.
“Decided to wake up, have ya?” Aaron’s on the stool next to the bed, “How ya feelin’?”
“Like someone shot me?” Robert sooths.
Aaron’s cut off by Vic, Diane, Jimmy, Nicola, and even Jai swarming in like bee’s asking him how he is, if he needs anything, Aaron stays at his side.
It’s midday when Seb toddles in Robert’s hospital room. Pensive as ever, terrified to see his dad in all of these scary tubes. “It’s alright buddy… I’m okay.” Seb’s gently placed on Robert’s legs, and feels ten times better after receiving a get well daddy card.
The cops ask him the usual questions you’d get asked if a mad man held you near an edge of a cliff with a gun to your head, and Robert answers as best as he can.
They tell him if Aaron hadn’t been there, who knows what could have happened.
The doctors keep him for a week under observation, Dr. Dhar makes a daily visit.
When he’s released, he’s asked if he’s being looked after by anybody.
Before Vic has a chance to say anything…
“Yeah, with me. He’s… he’s comin’ home with me.”
It’s hard, and it’s long, but eventually Robert’s able to walk again, without his crutches. He’s able to pick Seb up and walk to David’s.
Aaron’s been a friend, a companion and just someone to talk to.
After all that they’ve been through, it’s only fair he lets Aaron offload on him once in a while.
They’re lounging on the couch one night, blanket on their legs, Aaron’s head resting on Robert’s shoulder, Seb passed out next to them, Finding Dory’s end credits floating on the screen.
Aaron gazes up, Robert’s face so close to him.
He can’t remember who leaned in, but the next thing he knows, their lips are pressed together, this hole inside his chest… now full. Full of love, full of laughter, full of Robert.
There’s still a ways to go, they’ve still got so much to talk about.
This is a start.
A start for the rest of their lives.