Aaron splashes cold water into his face and keeps repeating his mantra. You can do it, you can do it, you can do it. But his jackrabbiting heart keeps betraying him, just like his stomach, which desperately wants to get rid of the dinner he had only an hour ago.
He closes the tab and takes a few harsh breaths, then he straightens his back and stares at his reflection.
Fuck, he can’t do it.
The thought that something wasn’t right with him, didn‘t hit Aaron like lightning. It was not one of those movie-esque moments where the protagonist has an epic scene of realisation in slow motion.
Instead it was a long build up, a queue of little things and bigger things that made him aware that he wasn’t quite like other blokes.
It started when he and Adam began to hang out. His mate wouldn‘t shut up about this girl‘s mini skirt and that lass‘ tits. The amount of synonyms for external genitalia is insane and Aaron had no idea there were so fucking many! But it turned out, the more Adam talked about chicks and boobs, elbowing him and wiggling his eyebrows, the more Aaron thought… nope.
He didn‘t think any of that was sexy, neither ‘melons’ nor pussies.
A year later he figured out why: he‘s gay. And he told Adam as much. His mate was amazing, totally cool with it and instead of only talking about girls, he started talking about boys now, too, because he was a good mate. He pointed out blokes and asked Aaron if he wanted to bone them.
Spoiler: Aaron did not.
And then Adam started asking all the things about gay sex, about taking it up the arse and if Aaron already had done it.
That was a question he was not willing to answer and he snapped and yelled at Adam why everything that came out of his bloody mouth had to be something about fucking.
“Aaron, calm down, for fucks sake. I‘m 17, man. Sex is all I can think about!“
Aaron was 17 too. He never thought about sex.
Then Jackson came into his life like a whirlwind, setting his life on fire and Aaron fell. He fell so hard for this curly haired man and wanted nothing more than being close to him.
He was 19 and Adam loved to tease him, calling him a late bloomer, but here he was: crushing and stumbling into a relationship without really knowing what that meant. All he knew was that he liked watching movies with Jackson, that he liked when Jackson laughed and that he liked listening when Jackson told him about his work or hobbies.
It was perfect until the train crash happened and Aaron learned the word Quadriplegia and the utter horror behind that clinical word. Paralyzed from the neck down caused by an injury of the spinal cord.
Jackson was broken - not just in a physical way. He tried to push Aaron away by saying mean and nasty stuff, showing a dark side Aaron hadn‘t seen before. But he loved the man and so he stayed regardless.
“What do you want with me, Aaron, eh?“ Jackson cried one night. “I can‘t even give you what you need!“
It took Aaron almost a minute to figure out that he meant sex .
“I don‘t care!“ he shouted.
How Jackson could assume that was what he needed, Aaron would never understand. He wasn‘t even thinking about sex.
Life after Jackson was difficult. This wasn‘t something you could shake off easily and move on as if nothing happened.
For about a year or so his family let him grieve about his first love, but of course his mum started one day with her you-should-go-out-and-live-a-little speech. It quickly became Chas‘ favourite tea topic and Aaron loathed it. He was already living - how could she even say this, it made him even more think about Jackson?! - and he was perfectly fine with how it was, thanks very much.
Figures, it only got worse. She started setting him up on blind dates with blokes and yeah, alright, they were nice, good looking guys. But they were just nice, good looking guys. Aaron felt nothing. He forced himself through those evenings to be polite, only to let them down in the end.
You would think his mum gave up at one point, but then you don‘t know Chas Dingle.
“His name is Ed, he is a nice bloke. And good looking!“ his mum beamed at him and pressed something into his hands. “Have fun, luv.“ She winked.
Aaron stared at the items she gave him. It were three condoms. He never bought condoms in his life - hell, he never even considered buying condoms!
When she left the backroom to take over her shift in the pub, he stood there, dumbfounded, still eyeing the small packages. In the end he opened one, simply out of curiosity.
It was slippery. And the rubber felt weird on his skin.
He held it up with two fingers like tweezers. His stomach rolled and grumbled and Aaron felt like throwing up any second. No way this was going over his… or… into him… nope.
Aaron threw it away, trying not to gag when he did.
An hour later, Ed showed up in the pub. It turned out, Ed was a nice, good looking bloke.
“I won‘t have sex with you!“ Aaron blurted out right at the start.
Ed gave him a look and then he shrugged. “Alright. Still up for a few beers though?“
He smiled and Aaron let out a long breath. “Beer‘s fine.“
It was just another thing added up to a long list of why-Aaron-is-different-things. He knew what people, especially men his age - the early twenties, are supposed to feel. Are supposed to do.
Aaron didn‘t feel any of it.
Adam asked him how his date with Ed was and Aaron thought he wouldn‘t call it a date, but he answered anyway, truthfully. That nothing happened between them.
His mate was giving him an incredulous look and elbowed him.
“Oi, show me your hands!“
“What?“ Aaron asked dumbly.
“Your hands, c’mon!“
When Aaron slowly did, not sure where this was going, Adam grabbed them and looked at his palms.
“Just checking, mate. You must have horny skin there by now, from all the jerking off. You need to get laid, man!“ Adam laughed loudly and slapped Aaron‘s biceps.
It was a joke, just a little tease amongst men.
Aaron didn‘t laugh.
“Do you… do you jerk off?“ he asked Ed, because somehow nice, good looking Ed stayed a part of his life and they went out in Hotten regularly.
Aaron felt his cheeks burning when he finally spit out the question that was on his mind since that night with Adam.
Ed gave him a weird look. “Sure.“
Sure. Of course.
Because everybody did. The internet was full of masturbating websites and articles, Aaron did his research.
“Don‘t you?“ Ed asked him carefully, his face perfectly neutral.
And the answer was no. Aaron didn‘t jerk off, although Adam, Ed and basically the whole internet suggested that he should.
Aaron fled from the pub.
Maybe Gordon has broken him, has damaged him forever. Aaron stared at the reflection of the bathroom mirror, wondering if he was dead inside, before he grabbed the razor.
Ed got a new job in France and Aaron was sad that he had to leave. He really became a good friend in the past few months. Being with him was so easy and his silent, balanced nature was such a welcomed variety to Adam‘s animated, giddy self.
Aaron couldn‘t help but think that maybe he might have fallen for Ed, if only he’d been given more time. It felt unfair, like he’s being robbed of an opportunity.
They had an amazing last evening with beers and booze and when they called it a night, Ed hugged him long and tight and Aaron held onto him as long as he could. With a little smile Ed is pressing something into his hands.
“You might wanna check this out,” he said, pregnant with meaning and then he left.
For a very long moment Aaron was panicking that it might be condoms again and he felt like screaming in frustration. When he slowly opened his palm, scared almost about what he would find, he realised it was just a piece of paper. With a quickly bumping heart he unfolded the note and stared at it for a long time.
It was an internet link, written with Ed’s neat letters.
Asexual Visibility and Education Network. www.asexuality.org
Underneath it said: It’s ok if you are. Take care, Aaron. Ed xx
The thought that something was wrong with him didn’t hit him like lightning.
It was the thought that something was right with him, that did.
As soon as Aaron clicked on the website and read the first few sentences, he knew this was his answer. And everything fell into place, everything made sense!
He was asexual. And most definitely also sex-repulsed, another word he learned that night. If that was because what Gordon did to him or if he was simply born this way didn’t matter in the end, he decided.
He wasn’t alone. He wasn’t abnormal.
Aaron was just different and he could live with that.
It was that click that he needed apparently, so Aaron started tackling his demons and searched for a therapist. He didn’t tell Adam, or heaven forbid his mum! Because Aaron wasn’t a talker by all means and didn’t know if counselling was for him, but it turned out it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
It helped. It helped him feel comfortable in his own skin again - on more than one level.
And finally, at 25, Aaron reached a stage in his life where he was content. He had a job, his friends, a huge family and that was okay. It was good.
And then Robert Sugden waltzed into the pub and Aaron‘s heart and he never thought that was even possible. Love at first sight? For him? Please.
But there was this tall, blond lad with his stupid leather jacket and his smug smirk and he was infuriating. And so, so gorgeous. And he had that sarcastic strike of humour that Aaron became quickly fond of and Robert was so confident, it was almost cocky or arrogant as some - his mum - might say. But Aaron wanted nothing more than to spend time with the investment banker, to bask in the glow of his sheer presence.
Robert was everything Aaron was not and why the other man decided to give him, Aaron!!, time of the day - he didn‘t get it. He was too clever and selfish to question it though.
They had a good thing going, Aaron thought, they spent time together, talked about cars and business. He was fine with secretly ogling Robert from afar, more than fine. And for the first time ever, Aaron was happy. It was such a foreign feeling. Even the love he had for Jackson seemed just like a lousy copy now for what he felt for Robert.
Of course Robert had to ruin it.
“I wanna know one thing,” he muttered and grabbed Aaron’s face to pull him in for a kiss.
Their lips touched, Robert was passionate and wild and the incredible softness of his lips built an intoxicating contrast to that. Warm fingers cradled Aaron’s stubble, held him gently close. His heart leaped in his chest and his skin tingled with a pleasant buzz. It was the best kiss Aaron ever had. Mind you, he hadn’t had a lot of kisses, none at all since Jackson to be precise, but still. That kiss made his knees weak and hands shake.
And it ruined everything.
Aaron pushed his hands against Robert’s chest and shoved him away.
“What have you done?!” he hissed and Robert’s eyes widened.
“I thought… I thought you wanted it too,” he said, still gasping for air, because that kiss was breathtaking in every sense of the word. “Didn’t you?”
The green eyes are looking at Aaron with a mixture of sadness and shock and Aaron’s heart breaks. Because he did! He did want it. More than anything, more than words can express.
But it can’t happen. It won’t lead to anything anyway.
Once he told Robert about asexuality, he would run for the hills and Aaron couldn’t handle that. It took him years to come back from Jackson, but he was positive that he wouldn’t get past this. Robert was too important.
Aaron touched his lips where he still felt the ghost of Robert’s and he got so damn angry. About Robert and his asexuality and the fucking universe for not letting him just be fucking happy for once! It‘s not fair.
“You don‘t want me,“ he managed with a hoarse voice, before he left, ignoring the wounded expression on Robert‘s face.
Did Aaron mention that Robert was infuriating? Yeah? Good, because he was! So infuriating. He wouldn‘t just back off like Aaron wanted him to, no he kept seeking Aaron‘s closeness, asked him out for a pint and still gave him those affectionate looks that made Aaron mushy inside.
It culminated in Robert faking a breakdown of his beloved Porsche to get Aaron out of the village to a tiny lay-by at the country road. He even admitted it when Aaron arrived.
And Aaron kissed him. Just kissed that cocky lopsided smirk off that handsome freckled face.
Maybe it could work, he thought when Robert laid his arms around his waist and held him, maybe he could make it work.
Make it work, he mouths at his reflection, make it work.
He always knew it would come to that point. Robert has a reputation after all and Aaron has heard about in colourful details right from the start when the Sugden offspring returned back home.
It’s common knowledge that Robert slept with loads of women and men and rumour has it there were times where he changed his lovers like other people change underwear.
This now was inevitable from the start. After being together for four months Robert surely wants to take the next step, whereas Aaron is perfectly happy with the current step. They kiss, they cuddle on the couch, they spoon during the nights. Robert basically lives with him at this point and it’s amazing. It’s everything Aaron ever wanted and even better.
But this isn’t just about his needs, is it. It’s about Robert’s too.
It’s just sex, he tells himself, people do it all the time. He can do it.
“Aaron? Are you coming?” He hears Robert’s voice from the other side of the door.
His heart beat stutters again and hands are getting clammy. Oh god, this is it. He hums in response, not sure if he’ll get a word out of his tight throat anyway.
Maybe he can just lay there and let Robert do… the stuff. Aaron squeezes his eyes shut again and takes deep breaths. The thought alone is sickening.
Fuck, what if he doesn’t get hard? He rarely gets half-hard. What is Robert gonna think, what is he gonna say?
“Okay, I’m waiting in your room yeah? Popcorn’s ready!” Robert says through the door and then he walks off. Aaron hears him whistling.
Bless, he thinks it’s just another movie night and Aaron wishes so much that it was, because urgh! Those movie nights are wonderful and he gets to spend the whole evening curled up against Robert’s side, while his boyfriend plants little kisses on his hair. He’ll never admit it to anyone how much he loves those moments, the intimacy and that man, it makes his heart ache.
But he wants this to get over with.
Otherwise it’ll drive him insane.
Get it done, Dingle. With one last nod at the mirror, he leaves the bathroom and crosses the dark hallway in the flat above the pub to his bedroom.
The sight that unfolds in front of him makes his stomach flip. Robert is starfishing on his bed, chewing popcorn and grinning lazily at him. He’s wearing a plain white T and grey trackies and he looks so damn soft and cozy and for a moment, Aaron doesn’t know what to do with himself. He loves this man a whole lot.
For Robert, he reminds himself, do it for Robert. Then he strides towards the bed on stiff legs and climbs on his boyfriend, straddling his lap. He never did something like that before and he can’t fathom how this is supposed to be remotely sexy when he feels just awkward and clumsy.
Robert‘s eyes widen and his grin turns into a soft smile.
“Aaron,“ he breathes and looks at him like is the 8th world wonder.
He leans down and kisses Robert, at least this is safe territory. Hands start stroking over Aaron‘s back and he wonders what to do next. Should he… maybe he should do the same. He lets his palms run over Robert‘s shirt, internally discussing if he should use more pressure or do it more slowly.
Apparently Robert likes what he does, because he opens his mouth and dips his tongue against Aaron‘s lips. And then, whoah, there is a tongue swirling in his mouth, like really deep in his mouth, and that‘s definitely not safe territory anymore. He should have brushed his teeth better, what if he‘s got bad breath?
Aaron shifts on Robert‘s lap and suddenly something hard is pressing against his jeans cladded arse. Robert is hard. This is Robert’s dick. Aaron’s mind is running a mile a minute and he‘s tensing up. Oh god. Oh fuck. This is it now.
He feels sick.
Just get it over with, he tells himself once more and starts pulling at Robert‘s shirt. Maybe when he just gets it done quickly, it will be okay.
His boyfriend pulls back and-
His stomach is twisting and that awful panic of throwing up right then and there is back. Fuck, what is he even doing here? Aaron can barely focus on anything.
Robert takes his hands and just holds them and only then Aaron notices the frown on Robert’s forehead and the concern in his green eyes.
“You’re shaking,” Robert says and helps Aaron gently off his lap. “Breathe. Deep breaths.”
Feeling heavy and exhausted all of a sudden, Aaron’s body hits the soft mattress and he closes his eyes, inhaling harshly and willing the food to stay down. His head is spinning. It takes him a very long, terribly long moment to get his shit together and as soon as the nausea slowly fades, he blinks his eyelids open. Robert kneels next to him, looking at him and the frown is still there. If anything, it got even deeper.
“Sorry,” Aaron whispers, embarrassed.
God, this is humiliating. He hides his face in his hands and rubs his heated cheeks.
“You just had a panic attack.” It’s a statement, not even a question. “Did I… did I do something wrong?”
Aaron lowers his hands quickly. “No!” He sits up and stares at Robert, who looks totally miserable by now.
“We made out and you had a panic attack, Aaron!”
Robert is getting more and more upset with every second and Aaron’s heart is breaking. He knows this is the moment where he has to tell the truth. Because he can’t go on like that and he can’t “make it work” either.
“I don’t want sex with you,” he basically vomits the words out, just like that.
Everything in Robert’s face is falling, his jaw drops and his eyes widen, before he scoots away from Aaron, putting distance between them on the bed.
“No. No, look…,” Aaron bites his lip and gives himself one last mental push. “I don’t want sex at all. I’m asexual.”
It’s only the second time he says the word out loud, after telling his therapist. Well, here goes nothing, he thinks when he gauges Robert's reaction warily. His boyfriend’s expression turns blank and he just stares at Aaron like he’s never seen him before. Seconds are passing, stretching like small eternities and heavy dread is flushing Aaron’s belly.
This is what he wanted to prevent in the first place. Robert is going to break off with him now, it’s inevitable. Aaron tries to steel himself for the eventual rejection.
“Hm,” Robert hums, tilting his head.
Aaron’s eyebrows are flying up to his hairline. “Hm?”
“So, you don’t have sex - ever?” Robert asks, but not in a taunting or teasing tone. He sounds genuinely curious.
Aaron slowly shakes his head. 25, still a virgin, and considering the past 10 minutes it’s probably gonna stay this way forever.
“Okay,” he echoes dumbly.
“It’s okay,” Robert repeats as if it was just a little, simple thing and not some ultimate relationship-killer they’re discussing right now.
Aaron receives one of Robert’s famous soft smiles, where some of his gorgeous laughter lines around his eyes appear, before he’s getting pulled back down on the bed. They’re lying on their sides now, facing each other and Aaron isn’t quite sure if his brain is catching up properly with the situation.
Robert chuckles and Aaron loves that deep and smooth-like-honey sound, he could listen to it forever.
“I said. It’s okay. Now c’mere.”
Without waiting for a reply, his boyfriend shifts on the bed until he’s the little spoon and pulls Aaron’s arm across his waist.
“But I can’t give you sex…” Aaron whispers brokenly against the blond hair in his face. it tickles his nose.
“Aaron,” Robert twists his neck to look at him. “It doesn’t matter. Sex isn’t everything-”
“But you love sex!” he throws in, still not getting how Robert is just shrugging his shoulders and accepting it. This wasn’t part of the possible scenarios he brain came up with beforehand.
“Oi, stop interrupting my romantic speech, idiot. Yes, I do enjoy sex, I think having sex with your partner is great. but only if they enjoy it just the same. Consent, Aaron! It’s a thing, alright? Consent is sexy. You just had a panic attack, for fucks sake. I would never - and you have to believe me - I would never force you to do something you don’t want. I would never expect something from you that you can’t give me. And sure, yes, I do love sex, but I love you more.”
Aaron gasps. “You love me?” He gets all warm and mushy inside. Robert loves him!
“God, you really are an idiot sometimes, Dingle,” Robert is giving him a look over his shoulder, despite that awkward angle. “Course I do.”
Aaron hugs him tight, feels like almost crushing Robert’s ribcage. He never wants to let go of this perfect man. He buries his nose in blond streaks and breathes deeply.
“I mean, I can still jerk off-” Robert stops himself, “Hey, I can jerk off, right?”
“Yeah. As long as you don‘t want me… lending you a hand or something…“ Aaron says, feeling a bit awkward.
At first he notices Robert‘s torso vibrating before he barks out a laugh and Aaron can‘t help but join in. It‘s like a magic cure against the tension in his body.
And then they‘re just lying there, cuddling and spooning, the movie and the popcorn long forgotten, until they both fall asleep.
Wow, did this really happen?
Aaron waits for the second shoe to drop.
Surely Robert must regret it at some point.
He‘s still waiting for that shoe to drop when Robert asks him to move in together into the Mill a year later.
It can‘t be long now until said shoe drops, Aaron thinks, still waiting, but then Robert surprises him with the sweetest proposal in the barn. With a picnic and blankets and perfect words, a wobbly chin and glassy eyes.
When he‘s standing in front of Robert, saying his vows and putting the ring on, Aaron decides that he should stop waiting now.
“How’s married life going?“ Adam asks them and slaps on Aaron‘s shoulder when he falls down on the chair next to him.
Aaron keeps chewing Marlon‘s potato wedges and smiles quietly.
Marriage is amazing actually. Better than he ever dared to imagine.
“Well, you know, Adam…“ Robert starts, puts his cutlery down and leans back, a smug smirk spreading on his face and Aaron rolls his eyes, because he knows - he knows! - his husband is about to make a horrible pun. “It‘s ace!“