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to those who wait - part 4

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The motor is lowly humming, a quiet, steady sound, as Aaron speeds up on the M1. He knows this route so well by now, memorising all the city names on the signs. Every four weeks he drove this way in the past 6 months, trapped in a weird state between waiting, hoping, dreading and doubting. A rollercoaster of emotions, a seemingly never ending circle of anticipation, a short moment of happiness, the heartbreak of another goodbye and then back to waiting. 

Waiting for the letter. The letter. A letter saying that Robert was a free man, free to go home.

Aaron has the steering wheel in a death grip, his knuckles are white and his palms are sweating. He glances to the left and swallows. 

Robert is sitting on the passenger seat, staring outside, motionless. He hasn’t said anything since he got in the car. It’s unreal, being in the same car with Robert again. 

The last time they were driving together, Aaron thought they were heading towards a future together in France. 

Aaron feels himself getting bitter again and tries immediately to stop that train of thoughts. What’s done is done, he reminds himself to focus on the present. 

Robert is coming home. Robert is free. 

It’s unreal.

That moment when Robert stepped through the gate, with a small bag in his hand, looking utterly small and lost, until Aaron rushed over to him and crushed him against his chest - it was a mirror to what happened in 2017. It was overwhelming. Aaron never wanted to let go and hell, this time there was no guard who reminded them that time was up - because now they had time, all the time in the world. The rest of their lives. 

Tears were streaming down Aaron’s face, he was sobbing, all the heartbreak and loneliness of the past 12 years flowing out of him. For the first time he felt whole again. The part of him that had been missing was finally back in his arms again. There are no words to describe what they went through, what they’ve overcome to finally reach this point. 

Aaron’s birthday was only a few weeks ago and this was the best present one could ever give him. His one true wish that now came true. 

It is like a dream. 

Out of an impulse he reaches over and puts his hand on Robert’s leg, just to feel. Just to make sure he’s actually there. He senses how Robert is tensing up, but a second later he’s grabbing Aaron’s hand like a life line.

Aaron looks over quickly and sees Robert still staring outside with wide eyes. He is so quiet. 

And Aaron can only imagine how it must look inside him. If it’s overwhelming for Aaron, it must be terrifying for Robert. He knows about his fears and concerns regarding coming back to Emmerdale - Robert told him during one of his visits. If nothing else, Aaron is determined to support him on every step of the road back into a normal life, just like Robert did for him back in 2016 and 2017. 

He squeezes Robert’s hand, a gesture to let him know that he’s there. A silent promise to not let him down. 

Robert is coming home. They’d figure the rest out, Aaron tells himself to fill his mind with a positive spirit. They’d figure it out and everything will be fine again. He smiles and keeps his eyes on the road, where the signs tell him that they‘ll be




in Emmerdale soon. Home. Robert’s not sure what to expect, what to feel. Is the village still looking the same? Yes, he got a few updates here and there from Vic and Aaron, but hearing about it and seeing it with his own eyes are two very different things. With every mile an uneasy feeling in Robert’s stomach grows. 

It’s been there since he stepped through the metal gate, got a little bit better in Aaron’s arms and was constantly getting worse since then. 

He can’t even say why exactly he’s feeling so anxious. Because of seeing the village again? He grew up there, he knew every stupid stone in Emmerdale. Because of going back to the Mill? He rebuilt the house, for heaven’s sake, the whole interior that Aaron has kept till this day was done because he wanted it. Because of meeting his family again? Yeah that, maybe. Vic isn’t so much of a problem as Diane and Harry. Robert doesn’t know where he stands with his Stepmother, whom he hasn’t seen for years, because the trip to the Isle of Wight became too stressful for her. After battling cancer twice, her body is now suffering with age. And Harry… the nephew he never met. The nephew that only knew the “uncle from jail”. The uncle from jail who killed his biological father. It’s all so sick and twisted and Robert hates it, hates that he caused it. 

He killed someone. Someone died off his hands. Yeah, he might have threatened Paddy and he was ready to attack Chas, but nothing actually happened. And yes, Lee Posner was a rapist and maybe he deserved the shovel - but still. It’s blood on his hands. Robert had a lot of time to think about that in his cell. 

He swallows and wishes he could avoid the Posners forever. He doesn’t wanna see them. Not just because he doesn’t know how they’ll react, if they’d yell at him and make his life miserable - no, he’s also afraid of his own reaction. The feelings that might get stirred up inside of him. 

And then there are also the other villagers, Chas and Paddy, Nicola and Jimmy… All the names and faces pop up in his head and swirl around there like a damn carousel. 

He’s a mess. He’s a fucking mess. He doesn’t show it though. Nearly 12 years in prison teach you to keep your emotions to yourself, to harden your expression. There is no possibility to show any signs of weakness except during the night in your bed. 

So Robert stares outside. Counts to 50. And to 100. And stares outside. 

There is so much green. So many trees. And he can see so fucking far. I’m free, I’m finally free, he repeats in his mind over and over to vanish his anxiety and he actually succeeds for a while. The nature is beautiful, absolutely stunning and after spending too long staring at concrete walls, Robert’s eyes almost hurt from being hit with all those colours and shapes! 

Only when they pass the Emmerdale village sign, his heartbeat skyrockets again. This is it now. Coming home. Something he wanted for so long. And didn’t want to at the same time. 

Aaron suddenly starts rambling into the silence of the car, random stories about the buildings and the people, nothing that Robert doesn’t know already. He knows why Aaron is doing it though. Even after all those years Robert can read him like an open book. Aaron is just as anxious as he is and tries to ease the tension. For which Robert is truly grateful.

Aaron keeps fussing, while he carefully steers the car onto the yard of the Mill. Robert looks at the stoney walls and small window, remembering vividly all the hopes and excitement when he built the house for them and Liv back in 2017. God, it feels like a lifetime ago. 

The gravel is gnashing under his feet and it’s so unreal, walking back into this house again. It’s all like a dream and Robert almost feels like he’s underwater, sounds are dull and far away, he feels floating. Aaron opens the front door and 




leads Robert in. He’s so goddamn nervous, it’s like he’s showing him around for the first time, which is bizarre! This is Robert’s home, he built it! And Aaron barely changed anything in the last decade. His heart beats so hard and he’s nauseous, swallowing that awfully big lump back down. 

He is eternally grateful that Vic listened to him and didn’t set up a welcome-home-surprise-party. That might be the least thing Robert needs right now. Aaron told everybody to back off for at least two days, to let Robert adjust to his new life outside. Checking on his husband - although he isn’t his husband officially anymore, Robert will always be that in Aaron’s head - he turns around. He’s not sure what he expected to see on Robert’s face... maybe relief, maybe happiness… maybe even fear and uncertainty, but definitely not that stoney expression. Robert’s jaw is set tight, but otherwise he just looks around like a businessman who’s checking in yet another standard hotel room. 

“It’s mostly like when you-” Aaron stops himself and bites the inside of his cheek. “I didn’t change much. Except, you know, for a few pictures. And I kinda smashed the fruit bowl…” Aaron points to the table in the kitchen, “but you know me… I barely eat that rabbit food anyway.” 

It’s an attempted joke, okay? To take off the edge and the weirdness of the whole situation. Robert used to tease him all the time about his eating habits, the banter was part of their everyday life like brushing teeth, having dinner. Cuddling on the couch. Exchanging sweet goodnight kisses. 

Aaron swallows and hopes for a little smile in return, but he doesn’t get one. Robert simply nods and now everything feels ten times more awkward. 

“Right.” He scratches the back of his head, feeling a little lost. “Let’s get your bag upstairs? You could-, I dunno… take a nap or something. You must be exhausted.” God knows he was when he came home after prison, Aaron wanted to sleep for fucking days back then. 

“Okay.”

It’s the first word Robert says since they left the prison parking space and his voice sounds deep and scratchy and Aaron tries to ignore how his heart aches to reach out and touch and comfort! But he isn’t sure if Robert wants that right now and Aaron doesn’t want to overwhelm him. 

So they just go up the stairs, leaving Liv’s former bedroom to the side and heading directly  for the master bedroom. Aaron gives Robert a moment to look around here as well, but his husband just stays awfully silent, even when he sees that crammed little desk with dozens of papers and bills spread over it. He knows it’s triggering Robert, because Robert hates a paper mess… but it doesn’t show on his face. 

“You can sleep, errrm… on your side.” Aaron’s face starts burning and he shifts uncomfortably on his feet. “It’s err… still your side.” He clears his throat, embarrassed by the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to use the full width of the bed in all those years. It just felt wrong. 

Robert nods. 

Aaron wishes he would say something. Anything. 

He isn’t good at this. He feels like Robert did it a lot better in 2017 than he’s doing now. He feels like messing up. What is he supposed to say to make this tension go away? How can he help Robert to get comfortable around his home? 

Suddenly tears are blurring his vision and Aaron blinks furiously, not willing to let them spill over. He reminds himself that this is about Robert, not him. For once, Aaron has to be the strong one. 

He strides over to the walk in closet and switches the light on. “If you wanna… unpack your bag… or….”

“Thanks.” Robert is still standing near the door, clutching his bag, with that expressionless face and Aaron gets the feeling that he should leave now, that Robert should get his rest now. 

“I’ll leave you to it…” he says quietly.

When he walks past Robert he can’t stop himself, he has to hug him. He gasps at the sudden intensity of that pull towards his husband and wraps his arms around him like his life depends on it. 

I’m here for you.

I’ll help you.

You’re not alone anymore.

I’m so glad you’re finally here.

I never let you go again.

I love you. So much.

I missed you.

God, I missed you.

Aaron doesn’t say it out loud, the words get stuck in his throat, because it got so tight that there’s barely room enough to breathe. He just hugs Robert and tries to lay everything into that touch. 

It takes a moment for Robert to throw away his bag and hug him back, hesitant at first, but then with increasing pressure. Aaron closes his eyes and buries his nose at Robert’s neck. When he feels himself on the edge of tears again, he lets go and lowers his gaze quickly to hide his emotions. Be strong for Robert, echoes in his head. 

“See ya later,” he croaks hoarsely and leaves Robert




alone.

The bedroom door falls into the lock with a quiet click and then Robert is on his own. For a long moment he is just glued to the spot, unable to move, before he starts wandering around, taking a look around. 

Damnit, Aaron, that desk is a fucking mess. 

He walks to his side of the bed and sits down slowly. The mattress is so soft. It‘s weird being on such a huge, soft bed after he got used to the thin mattress on his prison cot.

The surface of his nightstand is empty and Robert reaches out to open the single drawer of the little bedside table. He doesn’t think about what he expects, he does it just out of curiosity. 

Robert blinks.

In the small drawer is a package of tissues, a book - The Tattooist of Auschwitz, heavy stuff - a small stash of sweets, lube, batteries, a picture of baby Seb, the box of their wedding rings.

He still blinks.

It’s how he left it when they left, hoping for a new life in France. He read that book in 2019, when shit the fan. He hoarded those sweets, because he didn’t want Aaron to find out that he craved the sugary treat, when Robert used to tease his husband about his eating habits. 

It’s how he left it. 

Robert’s throat gets impossibly tight and closes the drawer quickly. He just sits there and counts again, uses his thumb to touch the tips of his fingers as he does. Minutes pass, maybe 5, maybe 15. Robert is grateful that Aaron gives him some space, leaves him be.

Eventually he gets up and grabs his bag to unpack his stuff like Aaron suggested. As soon as he steps into the small walk-in closet he freezes. There are his suits. His maroon suit and his blue suits. His wedding suit. And his shirts. Robert reaches out and touches one of the elbow patches and only notices then that his hands are shaking.

God, he loved his suits and his shirts - ‘there’s nothing wrong with looking smart’ - and loved to dress up and impress daft clients. Because that’s what he was: businessman Robert Sugden. Cocky, arrogant, sarcastic Robert Sugden.

He doesn’t know who he is now. 

Suddenly it’s too much. Everything is too much. Robert bolts into the bathroom, slams the door shut and locks the door. And then he stills again, staring with wide eyes at the lock. He locked the door. For the first time in 12 years he can lock a door of his own will. His fingers are still trembling when he turns the lock again.

Click. Open.

Click. Close.

Click. Open.

Click. Close.   

Click. Open.

Robert takes deep breaths and leans against the door and closes his eyes. Bumping his head against the wood, he wonders what’s wrong with him. He reckons he should be happy being home again, at least that’s how he always imagined it. Being reunited with his love, starting a new chapter, not looking back. He always dreamt of that emotional happy end of Red in Shawshank Redemption. 

This is his happy end now, isn’t it? Why doesn’t he feel happy? There is this knot in his belly and this stupid, fucking knot is all he feels. 

 

-     -

 

They eat Italian Aaron ordered for them and damn, it‘s what he used to always order back then, linguine al tartufo. It‘s meant as a cute little gesture, Aaron‘s way of showing that he cared, that he wanted everything to be perfect. 

But Robert has this lump in his throat again and he can barely swallow the food down, it hurts so much no matter how long he chews and chews and chews. The fact that he hasn‘t got much appetite isn‘t helping either. 

But he tries. He really tries to make an effort. Looking into that soft scruffy face is enough to tell himself to pull his shit together. He can‘t let Aaron down. So he smiles and tries to talk more, which feels weird.

Talking never was an issue in prison when Aaron visited him. Time flew by and they didn‘t even notice it, they were that engrossed in their conversation. Now though, in his own fucking home, he‘s suddenly lost for words. 

Finally he gets what he wanted for so, so long and now he can‘t appreciate the gorgeous man next to him, the delicious food on his plate and the taste of freedom on his tongue. 

It‘s like the universe is mocking him. 

After finishing the food, Robert hands the dirty dishes to Aaron, who puts them in the dishwasher. It’s a quiet business, but they move around in tune and it’s such a domestic moment, it’s like back then. They dance around each other in the kitchen as if it was choreographed, both falling into a rhythm naturally. And it’s weird how something so mundane like loading the dishwasher puts Robert at ease for the first time since he left prison this morning. 

“Do you, uhm, wanna watch a movie or something?” Aaron asks, glancing at the clock on the wall.

It’s only a couple of minutes past 8, way too early to call it a night. 

“Sure, yeah.”

“Anything you wanna watch?”

Robert thinks about that. Although they were allowed to watch a movie in prison every now and then, he missed out on a lot of films. “Actually yeah. I never saw Robert Pattinson as Batman, so humour me.”

Aaron chuckles at that, his face lighting up and his hamster cheeks appearing, and Robert’s belly tingles pleasantly. No matter how bumpy this start into this new chapter of his life might be, the love for Aaron is like a constant baseline. It’s always there, it never changes, it never falters. Knowing that is a huge comfort.

“Without spoiling too much, you’re gonna be surprised.”

They settle on the couch and Aaron is browsing the library, searching for Batman, but all Robert can focus on is that gap between them. There is like about a foot between them. 

The movie starts and Aaron leans back, puts his feet on the coffee table and folds his hand over his stomach. Robert can’t help but glance sideways, wishing he would be closer. Suddenly he wants nothing more than to be in Aaron’s arms. He wants to rest his head on Aaron’s chest and listen to his heartbeat, because then the world would be alright again. He wants to be held. 

Robert doesn’t ask.

Aaron probably has his reasons for sitting so far away. Reminding himself that this whole situation is not only difficult for him but for Aaron as well, Robert stays quiet. Maybe Aaron needs space and he will totally respect that, even if it makes him feel utterly lost right now. 

That knot in his belly is suffocating.  

It’s hard to focus on the film - even though Robert Pattinson is surprisingly good as Batman, bloody hell who knew?! - when he is so distracted by Aaron’s presence next to him. Robert wants to reach out to him so badly, but he holds himself back, seeing Aaron doesn’t make a move




towards him either. God, being so far away from Robert is torture. Aaron is longing for a touch, if he could have his way, he’d be on his husband’s lap from the moment they sat on the couch. 

He doesn’t wanna be clingy though. 

Pressing his short fingernails into the flesh of his hands, he tries to physically restrain himself. This isn’t about his own needs, his brain repeats, this is about Robert. And Robert clearly needs the space, why else did he spend the whole afternoon in their bedroom and was so quiet during dinner?

Of course Aaron noticed that he didn’t eat much, that his smiles were a bit too smiley without reaching his green eyes. Of course Aaron noticed how pale the freckled skin is. Who, if not he, understands remotely what Robert must be going through at the moment? 

Aaron won’t overwhelm him.

Taking it slow, one baby step at a time, that is the right thing to do. And this time, Aaron is determined to actually stick to this intention. 

“So, what d’you think?” he asks two hours laters when the credits are rolling. 

“It was good actually! Still got nothing on the Marvel movies, of course, but it was quite alright.” 

And there is it - a little glimpse of “the old Robert”, the nerdy comic geek, and Aaron just melts at the little smile that’s tugging on Robert’s lips. He smiles back, helpless against that affection that swells in his chest and feeling glad that the evening took such a positive turn. 

“I’m going…” Robert trails off and points to the staircase.

“Yeah, sure, okay,” Aaron says quickly. “You go first. I’ll finish down here.”

Robert looks at him like he wants to say something. He opens his mouth only to close it a second later again. Then he just nods and gets up from the couch.

Aaron watches him climbing up the stairs and despite knowing that it will take some time for things to fall back into ‘normality’ again - it’s so good having Robert back. Having another person walking around in the Mill. It’s been too quiet here since Liv moved out a few years ago and Aaron is surprised how much he missed hearing other people’s movements around him.

It’s still so unreal that Robert is here again, it hasn’t sunk in yet. Reckoning that’s normal, Aaron procrastinates another five minutes on the sofa before he takes their empty glasses and the water bottle over to the kitchen. The first day went okay… not ideal, but okay, he thinks. Of course Robert is still tense and a bit too quiet for Aaron’s liking, but he hopes his husband will relax in the upcoming days.

Aaron tried everything he could think of to help him. He got all of Robert’s stuff back from the storage, washed all his clothes and put them back in their closet. He ordered his favourite food and maybe he will play some of his most beloved music tomorrow, because that might be good on a subconscious level… 

He sighs, puts the glasses in the dishwasher, adds the detergent, switches it on and leans against the kitchen counter for a moment. The doubts are slowly creeping their way back into his mind and he rubs his face. This is so hard. Robert would know exactly what to do, Robert always knew how to support him, it was like an instinct, like a second nature. But Aaron is just so bad at all that! He doesn’t know how to trust his own instincts. How do you do that when you never learned it properly?

Robert is relying on him and Aaron is going to fuck it up, isn’t he? Fuck!

After spending another moment  just standing there, staring into nothing and listening to the voices in his head, Aaron switches the lights off and goes up the stairs. 

Robert is already in bed, probably sleeping, the small light on his nightstand still shining its warm glow and Aaron heads straight into the bathroom.

When he emerges five minutes later, he stops halfway on the way to his side of the bed. A thought hit him out of nowhere and now he doesn’t know what to do.

Robert is apparently still awake, because he must have heard him and turns around to look at Aaron. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah… No. I can-” Aaron clears his throat. “I can sleep on the couch, if you-... If you want?”

He should have talked with Robert about their sleeping situation and now he feels stupid for not having thought that beforehand. Going from being divorced and separated for nearly 12 years to sleeping in the same bed is a massive step. What if that is too much for Robert? What if Robert thinks Aaron wants sex from him and feels pressured? He doesn’t want Robert to feel pressured - ever! Aaron doesn’t want sex!

Okay, yeah, surely he always kinda wants sex with Robert and yes, he is craving the intimacy he missed out on for so long. But he can wait, that’s the point. He’ll wait for Robert, until he’s ready. 

“I’d understand, promise,” he adds.





“Stay.”

His own voice sounds so small in his ears, but he needs Aaron here. The prospect of sleeping alone in that bed, that feels a weird mix of familiar and strange, is terrifying. He doesn’t wanna be alone.

“Okay,” Aaron says quickly and his shoulders relax slightly. “But, I just want you to know… I don’t want sex!” Aaron’s cheeks turn pink and he squirms on the spot between bathroom and bed where he’s still standing.  “I mean, I do! Wanna have… sex. But, you know… not now!”

Robert slowly raises his eyebrows, slightly amused about Aaron’s awkwardness. It’s adorable. Warmth is spreading from his belly through his body.

“Aaron.”

“Yep, yeah.” 

Aaron springs to life and walks over to the bed. When he slides under the cover, Robert’s heart hiccups. God, he’s in the same bed with Aaron again!

For a moment they’re both lying there on their backs, motionless and Robert is afraid to even fucking breathe, because what if all this is just a weird dream - and a moment later he wakes up in the cell again on that too small bed with the too thin mattress and the too scratchy pillow, surrounded by grey walls. 

“Is this okay?” Aaron whispers and for a second Robert doesn’t know what he means, but then he feels a hand covering his own very slowly and carefully, as if he’s scared that Robert might pull away.

It’s like a dam breaking inside his body. Robert turns, shifts towards Aaron and wraps his arm around him. Resting his head on that strong, broad, muscled chest, he closes his eyes and squeezes Aaron as hard as he can.

The heartbeat is thumping right into his ear, steady and grounding, and Robert just breathes in Aaron’s unique smell. Aaron hugs him back and finally he’s being held and safe and home. 

This is real. This is happening.

There is no guard this time to tell them to let go, there is no time limit anymore. 

He can have this again, forever. 

Only when he feels the black shirt underneath him getting wet, does he realise that he’s crying. His body is used to letting go in bed at night, so that’s what Robert is doing, he’s letting go. The tears are streaming down his face and once the floodgates are open, he can’t stop. 

Aaron’s shirt is soaking everything up and it’s a bit gross, but neither he or Aaron seem to care. Robert hears quiet sobs and Aaron’s chest is trembling - telltale signs that his husband is crying too. 

They don’t talk. They don’t move. They’re just weeping until they fall asleep. The bedside lamp stays on all night, but they aren’t bothered. 

Chapter Text

It’s not all smooth sailing after that.

The first two days are fairly relaxed, just them in the Mill, but Robert knows they can’t stay in that cocoon forever. Facing the villagers is inevitable. 

Robert decides it’ll be best to start with the family, so he invites Diane over for a tea. The afternoon passes okay, although the lacking connection looms over their heads like a shadow. They are friendly towards each other, but it’s far from a ‘normal’ mother-son-relationship and the long forced break of their relationship didn’t help to close that gap between them. Robert still counts the meeting as a win, when Diane leaves in the evening. It could have gone a lot worse. Aaron gives him an encouraging hug and Robert allows himself to feel slightly optimistic.

 

-     -

 

Of course he’s been a fool. Optimistic, my arse. Only one day later shit hits the fan. 

“Vic invited us for dinner,” he says, looking up from his phone where he just read the message from his sister.

“Okay.”

Aaron smiles at him while he’s putting a kettle on. He does that a lot, Robert has noticed, putting the kettle on. Whenever something happens or Robert feels anxiety rising - Aaron puts a kettle on. 

His husband took at least a week off from work, but he already said that he would be willing to add another week happily for Robert’s sake. Aaron is really making an effort and Robert honestly appreciates it a lot. Sometimes it gets a bit too much though, but Robert doesn’t know how to tell him that without hurting him. He doesn’t wanna come across ungrateful. 

“Are you okay?” 

Aaron is standing in front of him and Robert must have zoned out again.

It’s something that keeps happening unfortunately. Sometimes Robert gets lost in his thoughts and only realises moments later that Aaron has said something to him.

“Sorry,” he mutters. 

“‘S all good,” Aaron reassures him quickly. “Just asked how you’re feeling about that dinner.”

“I dunno,” he blows out a long breath. He really doesn’t know how to feel about it. “Meeting Vic is not the problem... it’s Harry….”

His 11 year old nephew whom he only knows from pictures. His 11 year old nephew whose father he killed. Whose father happened to be a rapist. How is anyone supposed to deal with that epic clusterfuck?

Aaron nods understandingly and starts rubbing Robert’s arms. “It’ll be alright, though. He only knows you killed some stranger by accident. As far as Vic told him, his father died a natural death.” 

Yeah, Robert knows the story his sister made up. Being an expert of living a lie himself, Robert isn’t really a fan of it. From his own experience he knows too well that things like that, epic life-changing lies like that, are about to come out sooner or later and then hell will break loose. He burnt his fingers too often. For now though, it’s making the bonding between him and Harry easier, so Robert tries to swallow down his worries. 

“We should take something, when we go over… maybe a bottle of wine?”

Aaron bites his lip. “Errr…there’s no wine here. Sorry.” 

Figures, his husband always prefered his beer. Some things never change and it makes Robert smile. 

“I’ll go buy some at David’s.” He is surprised by his own words.

“You sure?“ Aaron frowns at him and yeah, Robert gets that he‘s worried. 

Considering it would be the first time for him to actually leave the house. And that is scary, it‘s terrifying, but… at some point he has to face the music, right? 

“It‘s just to the shop and back, hardly a manic Dingle gathering with half the village being there,“ Robert opts for a joke and gets a small smile in return.

“Do you want me to come with you?“ Aaron‘s blue eyes are so soft and his warm palms are still resting on Robert‘s biceps.

And Robert wants to say yes, because Aaron's presence alone would make him feel calmer and safer in some way, but for heaven‘s sake - it‘s just the shop! So his stupid pride kicks in and he says: “Nah, it‘s fine, seriously.“

Turns out, it‘s not fine. 

It‘s nowhere near fine. Because of course when he wants to enter David‘s, he‘s bumping into Wendy Posner.

He recognises her instantly, which is mutual if her face is anything to go by. Her expression turns into shock and then fury.

“What the hell are you doing here!“ she screams at him.

Robert just stills, shocked to the core. It’s Wendy. Lee’s mother. The rapist’s mother. 

“Buying wine,” he hears himself say. 

His mouth feels really dry and his chest is clenching around his lungs, making it hard to breathe. He spent so much time imagining this doomed encounter in his head, that it seems so damn unreal now that it’s actually happening.  

“You’re not supposed to be out yet!” Wendy shrieks.

Maybe a tiny bit in him hoped that she made her peace by now, but nope. Robert isn’t ready to deal with her right now. Maybe in a few weeks when he doesn’t feel so dreadfully raw and vulnerable and overwhelmed anymore. He tries to get past her into the shop, but she shoves him back. 

“So what! They-... they let you out early?!” If looks could kill he would be dead by now. “My Lee is dead and you get to carry on your life as if nothing happened?!”

He blinks at her. As if nothing happened. Robert can’t hold back the bitter laughter that escapes his body, because his life is a fucking train wreck and he’s desperately trying to put the pieces back together. 

“Is this funny for you?” She misinterprets his laughter for mockery and makes a lunge at him to slap him in the face.

Robert makes a move back so only her fingertips are brushing over his cheek.

“Mum!” 

There is suddenly another person, a bloke coming out of David’s, grabbing Wendy’s arms and pulling her away from Robert. It must be Lee’s brother then.

“He killed your brother, he killed my son!” Wendy struggles in Luke’s grip. 

Robert has had enough. How can this woman still be in denial about what happened back in 2019?

“He was a fucking rapist!” he spits in her face and she flinches as if he just hit her. 

There is a gasp at his left and Robert blinks his eyes away from Wendy’s furious face to look around. A few villagers are standing around, staring at the scene. Marlon, who looks thinner than ever and much older with his grey hair. And Rhona, who on the contrary barely aged at all. Behind them is a very grown up Leo and further down the road Dan has stopped with his car, rolled down the side window and blatantly watches the drama unfold. 

Robert’s heart stops when he sees two more people. It’s a teenage boy he doesn’t know and Harry. Vic’s Harry. The boy he knows from Vic’s pictures and stories. 

And Harry is frozen, his mouth gaping and his eyes huge. His eyes are on Robert’s face.

Harry overheard them. Harry heard everything. 

No, please, no, please God no. 

It’s like Robert’s heart stops beating and his whole body is flushed with heat, when he goes into panic mode. 

Suddenly Harry turns on his heel and runs away.

“Harry!” his friend shouts after him and starts running too. 

No, this can’t happen. This didn’t happen. Please no. Robert’s mind is a fucking mess, the ever same thoughts are swirling around in his head and black dots are dancing in his vision. 

“Look what you did!” Wendy shouts.

Robert gasps air in his aching lungs and just keeps staring at that empty spot where Harry was standing a moment ago.

“Look what you did!” Her voice is laced with pure rage. “Why couldn’t you just stay away. This is all your fault!”

And this is the first true thing that comes out of her mouth, really. It is his fault. It is all his fault. 

His fault. 

Without another word or look at Wendy Posner, he starts walking away from David’s shop and the prying eyes of the bystanders. Robert wants to run, but he can’t, his legs feel awkward. So he walks and keeps on walking, while Wendy is still shouting and calling him names. 

 

-    -

 

Aaron is biting his nails, looking at the watch for about like the thirtieth of time. One hour. Robert left one hour ago to shop for a bottle of wine. He should’ve been back long ago. Why isn’t he back yet? 

Giving up to control his leg, he starts jittering while he keeps nagging his nails, a habit he hates but can’t really get rid of completely. He sits at their dining table, staring into nothing. His brain is happy to provide all the possible scenarios of what happened at the shop. Maybe Robert met someone. 

 

To Robert

did you get lost :-)

 

Oh god, Aaron only hopes it isn’t Chas or Paddy. It was always difficult between them and Aaron wants to be present when they meet for the first time. Fuck, he won’t forgive his mum if she says something nasty to Robert, not this time! He waited too damn long for Robert to come home and he won’t let her ruin it, no way. 

 

To Robert

hey, call me when you read this, yeah? xx

 

Maybe Robert met Sam and they went for a pint or Sam invited him to Wishing Well for a catch up. This is a rather pleasant possibility and Aaron bites harder, hoping that this might be the reason for Robert not being home yet. He remembers that his husband and Sam had some sort of friendship going and although the pairing was definitely unlikely, it somehow worked for them both. Aaron would love to see that friendship rekindled.

What if Robert met Wendy? 

Everything goes very still inside Aaron‘s body and he slowly lowers his hand. Oh fuck. He met Wendy. Somehow he knows it‘s true, deep down in his guts he feels it. After sitting there for five more seconds, Aaron jumps up, grabs his keys and runs outside the Mill. 

Squeezing the phone between his ear and shoulder, he rings Robert while he struggles to put his jacket on and shut the front door.

“This is Robert Sugden, leave a message,” his husband’s voice greets him. Aaron curses and keeps jogging. 

As soon as he‘s on the main street, he sees loads of villagers walking around, talking loudly, pointing around. It’s way too busy and this is not normal, Aaron realises, not for an afternoon on a random weekday. The bad feeling in his belly gets a lot worse. 

“What happened?“ he barks towards the first person to cross his path.

It happens to be Bernice and although Aaron isn‘t sure if he wants to deal with her right now, he wants the answer as quick as possible. 

She turns her head to him and her expression shifts to something sad… something that looks a lot like pity.

“Oh Aaron…“ she sighs dramatically and Aaron‘s heart rushes down to his boots. 

“Bernice! What happened? Where’s Robert?“ He grabs her arm.

“Robert?“ she frowns in confusion. “Ow, wait, ow! Aaron!“ Bernice pulls her arm back, rubs the skin and glares at him reproachfully. “I didn‘t know he was missing too.“

“Missing too?“ Now it‘s his turn to frown. “Who‘s missing?“

She gives him a look. “Harry! Haven‘t you heard?” Aaron shakes his head slowly, dread tying a tight knot in his intestines. “There was a nasty fight, oh god Aaron, it was so ugly. And poor Harry… that poor boy!” She sighs and touches her heart dramatically and Aaron wants to shake her to get to the point! He needs to find Robert. “We all knew it would come out at some point and never did we expect it to be like this, did we?”

“What would come out?” he interrupts her, although he probably already knows the answer.

“That Lee died of Robert’s hands, that he was a rapist!”   Bernice dips her voice at the last word into an upset whisper. 

Aaron rakes his hands over his curls and curses. Fuck, this is bad. The poor boy, indeed. And Vic. Such an awful secret, kept hidden from the village over such a long time, a literal time bomb everybody could hear ticking. Now it exploded right in Harry’s face. Fuck.

Fuck. 

“Vic?” he asks.

“She’s looking for him everywhere right now. I think she’s in shock.” Bernice shakes her head sadly. 

“I gotta tell Robert,” Aaron mutters and starts looking around for his husband again. 

“Oh, he knows! He and Wendy yelled at each other for the whole village to hear. That’s how it got out in the first place!”

No, please. All his worst imaginations came true. 

So Robert did meet Wendy and they had a fight. Harry overheard everything and is missing now. The whole village is out to find the boy. But Robert is gone as well and nobody is looking for him. Nobody, except Aaron. He doesn’t even bother saying goodbye to Bernice, he just starts running again. 

His first thought leads him to the bridge, their bridge. He remembers all the heavy conversations they had there, with the small stream beneath their feet. If one of them needed to clear their head, they always came here. 

But not today. It’s empty. 

Aaron’s next guess is the cricket pavilion and so he jogs across the small bridge and over the field to the white building. Trying to get his erratic breathing and heartbeat back under control, he yanks the door open.

“Robert?” He takes a few steps inside, but realises soon that no one is here. 

Aaron’s heart sinks. This is bad. He pulls out his phone and tries to call Robert, but only reaches the bloody voicemail again. 

“Robert, if you hear this…” he desperately wants to swallow his panic down. He needs to keep his shit together now, he tells himself. “Just call me. I heard what happened… and… Please just call me. I’m worried.”

He slams his finger so hard on the red button, it actually hurts. With a sigh, he sits down on one of the dusty wooden chairs that are standing around and takes a moment to let it sink in. This is such a messed up situation. And Robert is nowhere near ready to deal with any of it. Despite him putting on a brave face for the past few days, Aaron knows that Robert is still struggling. Of course he is, who wouldn’t after such a long time in prison? And Aaron gets it, he gets it. This isn’t something you can shake off from one day to another. 

He stares at his dark display. Fuck, Rob, where the hell are you?

Going through his conversations about Emmerdale with Robert in prison, he thinks about the places his husband mentioned and asked him about. There is one place where Aaron hasn’t looked. 

He leaves the cricket pavilion and makes his way to 

 




the barn. The smell of the hay reminds him of his childhood and the early days of his affair with Aaron and it’s somewhat upsetting, because it basically feels like another life. But it’s also comforting. Grounding.

Robert pulls his knees up and hugs his legs. He feels so damn small. It’s weird, feeling like this.

He used to be strong for others all the time and now he hasn’t got a clue how to be strong for himself.

All he knows is that he has ruined Harry’s life. That shocked expression on the boy’s face is something that Robert will never ever be able to forget. That look of despise. 

And Vic? His sister must hate him, too, now that her well-kept secret is out. Robert has not just wrecked his own relationship with his nephew, he has most definitely destroyed Vic and Harry’s as well. You ruin everything you touch, the ugly words are echoing in his mind and fuck, he is never going to get rid of the ghosts of his past. Robert pulls his hair, just to make this pain in his chest stop!

Suddenly a thought hits him out of nowhere and Robert chokes out a broken sob. 

He wants to go back inside. 

In a fucking twisted way it was safe inside. The day was scheduled from 8am until the lights went out, everything was a routine, a foreseeable circle of ever the same things. And yeah that was dull and suffocating, but still. It was a routine. 

A glance on his watch tells him that the prisoners were probably either outside or in the common room now. He wonders how Charlie is doing, his cellmate. God, he was so annoying most of the time, but somehow Robert finds himself missing him. And Reginald. The old guard, who was counting his days until his retirement. His only sort-of-friend behind bars. Robert barely had the chance for a proper goodbye and he feels nothing but regret about that. 

The barn is swimming away when Robert’s eyes fill with burning tears. He misses prison.

Fuck, he misses prison! 

Deep down he knows it wasn’t safe inside. Attacks, beatings, stealing, rape - it did happen regularly. Not to him, but other inmates. Which sane person would want to go back there by choice? In that toxic environment with its claustrophobic atmosphere? Robert spent 11 years fantasizing of how it would be to be free again only to long to go back. 

These two emotions, that wish of wanting to be locked up again and the knowledge that this is totally absurd, are battling each other and in the end the latter wins. He’s losing his mind. He’s not normal. 

The door is being opened with a loud creak. Aaron steps in, looking around quickly with huge eyes. As soon as he spots Robert, he gasps. 

“Robert!” Aaron comes over to him, sits down next to him and hugs him. The angle is a bit awkward. Sideways. But Aaron won’t let go and Robert feels him shaking. “I was so fucking worried.”

He doesn’t make the move of hugging back, let alone looking Aaron in the eye. Utter shame is washing over him. His husband waited so long for him, put everything on hold for him and Robert just isn’t worth it. 

How can he miss prison when he’s got the best human being by his side? Aaron would do anything for him and he? 

Robert feels awful, even worse than before. He’s messing it up.

“So, you’ve heard what happened,” Robert grits out with a hoarse voice.

“Only bits.” Aaron lets go of him, but his hand stays on Robert’s back, slowly rubbing circles. “Wanna tell me the whole story?”

“When I went into the shop I met Wendy and she had a go at me. Said that I belong back to prison for killing her precious son.” He inhales shakily. “A rapist, a fucking rapist! I snapped and I shouted it in her face and then Harry… Harry was there and…” Words get stuck in his throat, because they can’t get past that huge lump. 

“She had no fucking right, you served your sentence!” Aaron exclaims, upset. 

“Have you-,” Robert swallows and it hurts. His whole chest feels too tight. “Have you seen Harry? How is he?”

He doesn’t wanna dwell on Wendy Posner, his nephew is more important now. 

Aaron hesitates, something flickers over his face and that doesn’t bode well. Like he‘s holding something back. 

“Aaron?” he urges. 

The teeth start nagging on the lower lips and the eyebrows are drawn together intently, before Aaron’s expression falls and he deflates. “He’s missing. The whole village is looking for him.”

Robert just sits there, blinks. He feels numb. God, he fucked up. He fucked up so bad. 

“Vic hates me.” It’s a statement, not a question. 

What has he done? He isn’t even back one week and he ruined everything. 

“She does not. She could never hate you,” Aaron insists. 

“I messed up her son, how are we supposed to come back from that?” 

“It was her lie, everybody knew it would come out one day.”

Robert turns his head to stare at Aaron. Why is he even still here? Why is he defending him?  Shouldn’t he be running a mile by now? Surely Aaron must see what a trainwreck Robert is now. That the only thing that's left of him is the shell of a man he once knew and underneath is just a useless, messed up brain.

“Wendy said, it’s all my fault.” His voice sounds like broken glass and he turns away because he can’t face Aaron when he adds: “And she’s right.”

“No! Hey, hey, hey!” Aaron says quickly and lays his hand on Robert’s jaw and gently pulls his head back towards him. Baby blue eyes are locking on him. “It’s not your fault.” 

How Aaron can still look at him so soft and affectionate is beyond Robert. He doesn’t deserve that look. He doesn’t deserve that man.

“I should just leave,” he whispers. 

Coming back here was a horrible idea in the first place and he always knew it. Robert should have trusted his guts and stayed away, then none of that would have happened. 

“Robert, please…” Aaron is tearing up quickly. “I just





got you back.”

He grabs Robert’s hands and tries to blink his tears away furiously. He won’t let go. He fucking won’t! He spent 11 years waiting and he just got him back!

“It’d be for the best,” Robert says quietly, as if he is seriously considering leaving Emmerdale. 

“This is your home! You deserve to be here! If you’re going, I’m coming with you!”

Robert snorts then, but it’s a weak sound, defeated. “I think we’ve already been there, in 2019.”

That awful, gut-wrenching moment when Robert handed himself in and Aaron came too late to stop him - he will never forget that pain. A part of him died that day and it took him years… years to get past it. 

“You’re not pulling the same shit again, d’you hear me!” Aaron says fiercely, pointing his finger at Robert. “You’re not leaving me behind again, because you think it’s for the best!” He jumps up from the hay and starts pacing. “I won’t let you this time. No fucking way!”

“Aaron…” Robert starts.

“No, shut up!” he interrupts, enraged. “Shut up. You served your sentence and you earned your second chance and we’ve waited long enough for that! Yeah, things are messy now and you think there’s no other way out, but…” Aaron stops walking back and forth and continues with a softer voice. “When I wanted to leave in 2016 because of Gordon, you stopped me.” He crouches down in front of Robert, getting on the same eye level. “And I thought I couldn’t handle it back then, but you helped me. I thought I wasn’t strong enough to stand my ground and get through it, but you were strong enough for us both. Let me be strong for you, this time.” Aaron puts his hands on Robert’s legs and gives a slight squeeze.

His beloved freckled face is too pale for his liking and the green-blue eyes are widened in surprise, maybe even shock. The chin starts wobbling and Robert presses his lips together, clearing his throat. 

“You and me,” Aaron croaks, because fuck, he’s about to cry now too. “You and me.”

To be honest, he’s scared. He isn’t Robert. Robert always knew what to say to get through to him. Robert is his rock, his anchor. Aaron is not sure if he can be the same for him. Chances are high, he’ll make it even worse. 

There is this nasty little voice that insists Robert might be better off without him, far away from Emmerdale. That Robert could start over fresh somewhere else. Without baggage. 

That logic is unbearable. And damn, yes, Aaron is selfish, alright? He just can’t lose him again, it’s not an option. 

You and me, he repeats over and over in his head to kill the other thought. You and me.

 

-    -

 

The little click pulls Aaron out of his thoughts and he listens to the slowly fading grumbling water in the electric kettle. He makes a brew with practiced hand grips, automatic, almost like a robot. On the kitchen table his phone is vibrating again and Aaron just knows it’s another client with another complaint. 

At some point he’ll have to go back to work, but now is not the time. The scrapyard has to wait, no matter how angry people are with him right now. He has other priorities and can’t deal with anything beyond that. His thoughts are circling around Robert and Robert alone.

Robert, who has barely left the bedroom since that Wendy-disaster last week. 

Aaron has made him promise not to leave - at least not without taking Aaron with him - and Robert agreed eventually, but damn. Aaron didn’t mean the house! 

He’s never seen his husband like this. So broken, so depressed. This is what this is. Depression. Aaron spoke with his therapist about it and he gave him the clever advice to be there for Robert, to support him and to listen to him. Such wise words really, but Aaron has no clue how to listen to someone who doesn’t talk.  

Fuck, this is so hard! 

Aaron squeezes his eyes shut so hard they hurt and takes a few deep breaths, before he takes the two mugs and makes his way up the staircase. The bedroom door is slightly ajar and he sees Robert lying on his side, facing the wall. 

He hasn’t moved since Aaron brought him lunch two hours ago. 

The plate is still untouched on the small desk when he enters the room. Aaron swallows hard and forces a smile on his face.

“I made tea,” he opts for cheerfulness, but he’s probably missing by a mile. 

“Ta.”

Robert isn’t turning around. Or moving at all for that matter. Aaron walks over to his side and places the steaming cup on the bedside table. 

Robert’s eyes are locked on the wall, his hands are snuggled up under his cheek and neck, his knees pulled up to the belly. He looks so small, so lost in their huge bed and Aaron’s heart breaks. He has to make this better! He has to fix this somehow! 

“I mean, I know my cooking sucks. Got the message. I’ll order from the pub tomorrow. Marlon could make his cheeseburger for us?” he jokes to ease the tension. 

It takes about five seconds until Robert reacts at all. He blinks as if he only just noticed that Aaron is actually right in front of him. 

“Hm?”

Aaron forces the corners of his mouth to keep up the grimace that he hopes comes across as an encouraging smile.  

“Tomorrow. Lunch. We could order Marlon’s burger,” he repeats. 

“Okay.”

“Do you… wanna come down? Watch a movie or...?” Aaron’s heart beats way too fast in his chest and there is that heavy pressure on his ribcage that makes it so difficult to breathe normally. 

“Maybe later.”

He does his absolute best not to show his disappointment and his concern, when he leans down and presse a quick kiss on Robert’s temple. The blond hair is a bit greasy and Aaron’s not sure when his husband has showered the last time. 

“Okay, I’ll wait for you,” he whispers quickly and then he needs to get out of there.

Suddenly he just needs to get out of this room. He can’t breathe in here. 

Aaron makes it towards the door, more stumbling than walking because his sight is blurry, his eyes burning with tears. 

In the hallway he takes a moment to inhale, count, exhale. Inhale. Count. Exhale. He doesn‘t know how long he‘s standing there in the half-darkness of the hallway, when he suddenly hears the front being opened. That snaps him out of his rigidity and he bolts down the stairs, not sure who it might be since he isn‘t expecting anyone.

Only a few people have keys to the Mill. Vic - but she is currently in Ireland at Debbie‘s, reconnecting with Harry. They found him and Isaac in the arcade in Hotten, upset and angry. Vic thought it might be for the best to process the truth about Lee, about Harry‘s father away from the village. At least for a few weeks. It‘s probably for the best, Aaron reckons, for them and Robert. 

The second one who‘s got a key is his mum, for emergencies, but god please! He really fucking hopes it‘s not his mum. Or Paddy. Aaron cannot deal with them now.

It‘s Liv.

He gasps in relief when he realises it’s her and then they hug each other so hard it almost hurts. They haven‘t seen each other for months and only now he realises how much he missed his little sis. 

“Didn‘t know you‘re coming,“ he mutters against her neck and feels her body vibrating when she chuckles.

“Surpriiiise!“

Reluctantly he lets go of her, steps back and gives her a once over. She got thinner and she‘s wearing those god-awful oversized jeans (“It‘s called boyfriend style!“ she snapped at him once, he remembers) and a crop top under an open plaid shirt that looks like she stole it from Paddy’s wardrobe. 

“Don‘t they sell decent clothes down there in London?“ he says grumpily, frowning at her outfit. 

She throws her backpack on the couch, rolling her eyes, and kicks her shoes off. “Stop it, dad!“

It took them years to say stuff like that in a joking, lighthearted way, but they both left their demon behind. Gordon is nothing more than a dark shadow in the far distance and Aaron is so glad for that.

He is a survivor and he came out stronger in the end. “The strongest person I know,” Robert said more than once. 

Except, he isn‘t that strong, is he? Making all those big words about being strong for Robert and ha ha. Epic universe joke. Turns out he isn’t. He‘s a let down. 

“What‘s with that sad face?“ Liv asks, walking past him into the kitchen - not without elbowing in the side. “I thought you‘d be a super-annoying, sappy bundle of loved-up happiness because of Robert!“ He scoffs bitterly at her words. “Where is he anyway?“ she asks and pulls out a water bottle from the fridge. “I wanna say hi!”

For a moment a wave of nostalgia hits him, with her being in the kitchen, grumbling. Thinking back to 2018 where they had it all. For a moment they had it all. They had Seb and Liv and sure, how fucking dysfunctional was that constellation? But it worked. It worked. And they were happy and they planned to have more kids. And Aaron wanted it so, so, so much, he would have done anything for that. 

But the next moment reality hits him again and he‘s reminded of all the shit that‘s going on. 

“He‘s upstairs…“

“Oh, nice!” She puts the bottle on the counter and walks to the stairs. “Can‘t actually believe he‘s here! So strange, right? Robert being home again. I‘m gonna-”

He stops her halfway up the staircase. “Liv… don‘t…” Aaron swallows. “I don‘t know if it‘s a good time right now.“

Her eyes are narrowing at him, searching for something on his face and she slowly takes it step by step coming down again. “What‘s wrong.“

It’s not even a question. They end up on the couch and he tells her everything, from Robert’s first day at home, the shit with Wendy and Harry’s shock, to Robert’s depression. Holding back wouldn’t make sense, she would find out about all this sooner or later anyway. 

“He hasn’t left the bed for days,” he finally admits quietly. “I’ve never seen him like that, Liv, I’ve… He never was like this and I don’t know what to do.” 

He rubs his forehead and closes his eyes for a moment. Liv stays silent, just watches him.

“I tried!” it bursts out of him. “I gave him space... I cuddled with him. I tried to talk to him…” Aaron trails off and shakes his head with a sigh. 

“I think he needs someone professional to talk to,” his sister finally says.

“A therapist?” She nods and he huffs. “I told him as much, but he wouldn’t listen. Said he doesn’t need one and he’s not a nutcase.”

“Ouch.” Liv wrinkles her nose.

And yep, that hurt like a slap in Aaron’s face. For someone who saw a therapist for years and has still got their number on speed dial, it was pretty harsh hearing those words out of Robert’s mouth. But…

“He doesn’t mean it, I know he doesn’t. It’s just… his head is messing with him and admitting this to yourself is so hard.” He looks at Liv and he’s tearing up. “I’ve been there myself and I know how hard it is and still-”

And still I can’t help him, he thinks bitterly. It breaks his heart to see his husband so broken and defeated. 

It’s nothing like how he imagined Robert being home again. Of course, he was aware that it wouldn’t be easy, that it would be a bumpy road, but he honestly never expected it to be like this. He thought putting Robert’s stuff back would help him to adjust, he thought patience and a bit of time would do the trick. He thought loving each other would be enough.

Fuck, was he naive. 

“I promised I’d be strong enough for both of us, but I’m not,” he whispers, voice shaky with emotions. His chest feels too tight. “I’m a let down and I’m going to lose him.”

Maybe he should let Robert go. Wanting him to stay in Emmerdale was a selfish wish to begin with, Robert was probably better off without the baggage. Maybe Robert needs a fresh start far away from this village and Aaron is just holding him back. 

The thought makes his stomach turn, it makes him sick.  

Liv leans over and touches his shoulder. “I’ll go up now. See if I can talk to him.” 

He breathes and nods and watches her climbing up the stairs again. Aaron hopes that she might get through to him, if anyone can, it’s Liv. Robert and his soft spot for little sisters. Aaron hears the bedroom door





being opened. Robert squeezes his eyes shut. 11 years he couldn’t wait to be with Aaron again, he spent so much time in prison thinking about him, fantasizing about being with the man. It was so bad it nearly drove him insane sometimes. 

And now? He doesn’t want to see Aaron. He doesn’t want Aaron to see him like this. How on Earth could it come this far? Robert knows the answer. He is pathetic. He is broken.

The heavy thought almost makes him choke on air. 

He feels the mattress dipping and tries to steel himself for the upcoming conversation although he doesn’t feel like talking. 

“Fuckin’ hell. You look awful.”

Robert rips his eyes open and stares at the face above him. “Liv!” he wants to shout, but it only comes out as a hoarse whisper. 

Oh god, she’s so grown up! She definitely lost weight and Robert thinks that he misses her round cheeks. Somehow she turned from this bratty teenager into a lovely young woman and he can only stare at her in a wild mixture of shock and awe. 

“Give us a hug!” she demands with a smile and waves her hands.

Robert sits up, ignoring his stiff muscles from lying motionless all day and does as he’s been told. She wraps her arms around him and that’s how they sit for a while, both silent. He hears her sniffing twice and fuck, he’s emotional too. 

His little sister! 

“It’s so good to have you back,” she breathes against his shoulder. 

Her words touch his heart, but they make him sad at the same time. She is probably the only one thinking that, his nasty brain insists. 

Half of the village still hates his guts - especially after the Harry disaster - and Aaron… well, Aaron probably regrets the words he said at the barn by now. He must see that Robert isn’t the man he fell in love with anymore. 

Liv pulls back. “How are you?”

“Yeah. Okay,” he says quickly and realises the next second how rubbish his lie is.

He’s a mess, he hasn’t showered for days, he stinks and surely she noticed it. You don’t need to be a Sherlock to notice that he is very much not okay. 

“You don’t need to lie. Aaron told me, you know,” she says and gives him a small smile. It looks sad though. 

He’s not sure, but he thinks he sees pity. To be honest, he can’t blame her. He is only a ghost of the man he used to be, a feeble shell. 

“I’m so sorry.” His voice breaks and he wants to hide from her eyes, being overwhelmed with shame. 

“What for?” she frowns.

He manages a weak shrug. “For being like this.” A burden on Aaron’s shoulders. As if his husband hasn’t dealt with enough in his life. He waited 11 years - and now he got this disappointing version of Robert back. Sure this isn’t what he signed up for. “I’m going to lose Aaron. I’m a let down.”

Liv’s eyes are flicking back and forth across his face, before she lets out a long sigh and shakes her head. 

“Jesus Christ, you’re both still idiots,” she says, exasperated.

“Rude,” he mutters, but he wonders what she means with her words. Has Aaron said something to her?

“You know, he just told me the exact same thing. Only he worries that he's letting you down and that you’re gonna leave him.”

Robert huffs. That doesn’t even make sense! Why would Aaron think that? 

“Told ya. Both idiots.” Liv sighs again. “I should have come sooner, you two obviously need me.” She still sounds like her brothers were the biggest inconvenience of her life, but Robert can also see the little glint of mischief in her eyes. 

It actually makes him laugh. It’s a raspy sound, more like a bark, and it feels so foreign after the past few days where he barely felt anything. Now his body is slowly springing back to life, still a bit rocky like an old motor who’s been out of use for too long. 

She pushes him back down on the bed and then she climbs over him and lays on Aaron’s side. They’re staring at the white ceiling and Robert is reminded of his bed in his cell. The bunk bed that didn’t leave much space between sheets and ceiling, and how he used to lay there every night, staring at the grey above him, fantasizing about a life with Aaron.  

“I know I should be happy being out and home…” he says quietly.

“But you’re not.”

He should be. Being together with Aaron is everything he ever wanted. Why isn’t he happy? The thought is killing him. This isn’t a question of love, he still loves Aaron more than anything, of course he does. He always will. But still… he can’t feel happy. Or grateful for his second chance. Instead he just feels empty. 

“No, I’m not,” he breathes, finally admitting it out loud.

His eyes start burning and he blinks quickly and takes a harsh inhale. Fuck, why does life have to suck most of the time? If there is a God or whoever out there, why is he constantly taking the piss? 

“It’s okay, you know,” she says in an attempt to comfort him, but it only upsets him.

“How?!” he shouts, turning his head to look at her. “How is this okay? I got out of prison, just to step into another! Only this one is my own stupid brain and I hate it! I hate it!”

Liv is silent for a moment, probably stunned by his sudden outburst, before she starts speaking again.

“I don’t know if Aaron told you, but I had a few pretty rough years. There was an accident I felt responsible for and no matter how many people told me I wasn’t …. the more I fell down into that dark hole of guilt and self-hatred and uhm… I started drinking again and well, to cut a very long story short, it got so bad I couldn’t see a way out.”

Robert just stares at her. He didn’t know that, Aaron never mentioned it, mostly because they tried to stick to lighthearted topics during the visits.

“How did you get out?”

“Aaron, mostly. But also Chas and Paddy. Gabby. Jacob. The people I loved didn’t give up on me even when I did. And Aaron dragged my arse to therapy,” Liv adds the last sentence with a little snort. 

“Aaron reckons I should see someone, talk to someone professional.” 

Robert Sugden never needed a shrink. Not after his dad leathered or resented him, not after his mum died or the horrible accident with Max happened. Not after Katie’s death or after he got shot. Robert always got through it on his own. 

“Helped me and Aaron,” Liv says simply. “Nothing wrong with needing help.” 

She nudges him and gives him an encouraging look. Of course he knew she was right. He saw how it helped Aaron. Hell, he told Aaron he was the strongest person he knew and he didn’t lie when he said it. 

Maybe, he thinks, maybe Aaron and Liv were right. Maybe he could do with some help. It was unlikely that he could get out of this spiral on his own. And he wants to get better, he really does. He wants this second chance with Aaron so bad. 

Counselling is worth a try. If it’s not for him, he can quit again. 

And while he’s lying with his sister on his bed, Robert makes the decision to turn his life around and he’s perfectly aware that this will take time, that there is no magic cure for his current state of mind. But as soon as he makes up his mind, he feels a bit better already. 

 

-     -

 

Things are looking up. The days after Liv’s unexpected arrival are bringing some major changes for Robert. First he finds a counsellor. They all are surprised with how quick this works out and it is all due to Aaron’s therapist, who had no time to fit Robert in themselves, but was able to pull some strings and got a colleague to take over. 

His first session is scheduled for next week and it’s something that Robert dreads and looks forward to at the same time. It’s a weird feeling, but Aaron and Liv are insisting that this would be totally normal. 

The next big thing that happens is that he finds a job. 

One of Robert’s biggest fears was always the uncertainty if he’d ever find proper work. Seriously, who would hire an ex-con? Especially in the business he was in? Where reputation was basically everything?

But then Aaron comes home with the errands, strangely excited and when he puts the paper bags on the kitchen table he says to Robert: “I’ve got some news!”

“Good or bad?” Robert asks warily from his position on the couch.

He feels good enough to leave the bed again, but he still isn’t ready to face the village, so the kitchen and the living room will have to do for now. Baby steps and that. Last night Aaron told him that he’s proud of him and although Robert is convinced that he doesn’t deserve that praise, it made him all warm and fuzzy inside. 

“Good!” Aaron grins, before he stops himself. “Well, I mean… for us at least. Or for you to be precise.”

“You’re not making sense, Aaron,” he says fondly. 

His husband comes over to the couch and sits down next to him. “So when I was shopping, I overheard David and Nicola talking-”

“Ugh, you said it’s something good,” Robert groans, half serious, half joking.

“It is!” Aaron chuckles. “So I heard them talking about Jimmy’s business and it seems that he has some troubles right now and Nicola mentioned that he’s currently looking for an investor…” Aaron lifts his eyebrows and nods slowly at Robert like the cute idiot that he is. 

“And you think I should step forward.”

“I mean, yes! You have saved money! You have the expertise! You are available immediately! You’ve worked with Jimmy before! It’s perfect!”

Aaron gets more and more excited and grabs Robert’s arm and yeah, he has to admit that his husband has a point. Robert rolls the thought over and over in his head, then he gets up from the sofa. 

“Hey, everything alright? Where are you going?” Aaron follows his movement, frowning. 

Robert makes his way quickly up the stairs before his sudden courage is leaving him. “Getting dressed. I’m paying Jimmy a visit.”

He walks into their closet and stares at his suits, neatly lined up, sorted by colours just like he prefers it. Swallowing a huge lump down, he finally picks a blue one out. It’s one of his faves, the suit of their first wedding. So many happy moments and feelings are linked to that piece of fabric and it shall bring him luck today. 

Slipping into the pants and the crisp white shirt feels equally familiar and strange. It’s a bit like putting a mask on of the old-Robert. He slips into the jacket in front of the mirror, straightens his shoulders and styles some streaks of his hair with his fingers. 

He looks like old-Robert. Only his eyes reveal the rifts behind the facade. 

He can only hope that he’s emotionally stable enough to do this. This is a huge thing after spending days in bed and on the couch. 

But Aaron is right - this is a good opportunity and he just has to try it at least. Robert takes a short moment to give his own reflection a silent pep-talk and then he heads down again. 

Aaron is gasping and nearly dropping his mug when he sees him. His blue eyes are widening and his jaw drops. Robert feels his gaze shifting down and up again, taking him in, he feels the heat in Aaron’s look and damn, if that isn’t the ego boost Robert needed. 

The mug is quickly put on the kitchen table and then his husband is hugging him tightly. 

“Wish me luck,” he whispers.

His slightly wavering voice reveals his fears and insecurities. Something that old-Robert would have never had. 

“Good luck.” Aaron pulls back and he’s smiling his brilliant soft smile that Robert adores so freaking much. How those baby blue eyes can look at his soul with that affection - it will never cease to amaze Robert. “Although you don’t need it. I know you don’t. I’m so fucking proud of you.”

Needless to say Aaron is tearing up now and Robert gets emotional himself. He pushes him gently away with a little snort-slash-sob

“I mean it!” Aaron insists. “You know, yeah?”

Robert stills. It‘s those two words that mean so much to them. For others it’s just a meaningless sentence, but for them it‘s a love declaration.

I love you, I‘m here for you, I believe in you.

Hearing it from Aaron means everything, more than any word in any language ever could express. 

“I know.“

Aaron smiles and tilts his head to kiss him softly. Robert leans into the touch, because he needs that right now.  

As always Aaron‘s kiss unleashes a box of butterflies in Robert‘s belly, an effect that didn‘t wear off despite all the years of separation. 

“Okay, gotta go,“ he breathes softly against Aaron‘s moist lips.

He needs to do it now, before he really chickens out. The thought alone of leaving the house is making him anxious. 

Aaron nods and swallows. “Go on then. I‘ll wait.“

Like he waited almost 12 years before. A knot in Robert’s chest loosens. One last peck to steal his nerves and then Robert marches to the door. He knows if he hesitates and stops now, he‘ll start overthinking and then he‘s never gonna go. Yanking the door open is a bit like ripping off a plaster, making him hyper aware of this new vulnerability. 

Fuck it, Robert mouths and steps out into the golden evening sun. 


-      -


Aaron says he’ll wait and of course he does, but urgh. He hates it. He’s bad at waiting. Something that’ll probably never get any better. Robert has been gone for two hours now and Aaron is a jittery mess. 

It’s not like he doesn’t have faith in Robert’s business knowledge - he worked alongside his husband for years and knows how amazing Robert is at what he’s does. It’s just that he really, really wants this to go like they’re hoping. Robert needs this success. 

He made so much progress during the past few days and Aaron is so proud of him, but at the same time he’s not delusional. It’s still a long way to go for Robert to tackle his depression - his therapy is about to start next week. Robert is still fragile and Aaron doesn’t dare thinking about what might happen if he doesn’t convince Jimmy to let him on board. 

Robert needs this job, this opportunity to go back to a daily structure and rhythm. And Aaron wants it so much for him, he deserves it so much! 

Biting his thumbnail, Aaron stares at the cold tea and wills his leg to stop bouncing. No such luck, though. He is one second away from bolting from the room and dragging Jimmy to accept Robert’s offer himself. 

The door opens and he gasps and jumps so quickly his chair topples over. Liv is staring at him, while her eyebrows are slowly rising, her hands still on the doorknob. 

“Alright?”

Aaron’s shoulders drop and he lets out a shaky breath. “No. Fuck.” He grabs his mug and downs his brew with one big gulp. “Robert’s at Jimmy’s. Trying to get a share of his business.”

Bless his little sister, long used to his grunted short sentences and able to fill in the various gaps herself. She quickly senses what he’s implying and the impact of it. 

“It’s gonna be fine.” She walks over and slaps his arm good naturedly to encourage him and he manages a small smile with tight pressed lips at her before he bends down and puts the chair back up. 

Liv doesn’t say more, but Aaron is glad for her sheer presence. Another person making noise, walking around, is calming him down already. He looks at her, while she’s heating up the leftovers of yesterday’s dinner, and feels a weird mixture of pride and gratitude. 

God, she was such a troublemaker at times, constantly causing tension between him and Robert, but in the end they got past that and now she is the glue that ties them back together. It’s a lot better since she’s here, Aaron has to admit. There is a little sting, that Liv managed something he couldn’t, but it’s just brief. The important thing is that someone got through to Robert and made him leave the bed. It doesn’t matter in the end if it was him or his sister. 

“Thank you,” he says out loud and she turns around and frowns at him.

“Oh, did you want something, too? Sorry, I thought you already ate, I can heat up a second share if you want?”

“No, I meant… thank you for being here.” Aaron bites his lip. “It helped him. You helped him.” Liv’s eyes go soft and she smiles. “When I couldn’t,” he adds quietly and hurries with his cup to the sink, turning his back to her. The last words just came out of his mouth against his will.

“You are helping him, you know?” she says. 

He isn’t sure about that, but he appreciates her words, although they’re just spoken because it’s a nice thing to do. Rinsing off that mug with warm water, Aaron glances over his shoulder at the clock at the oven. Two and a half hours. 

Is this long or not? Is this good or bad? 

What if Robert had another encounter in the village. 

Fuck, Aaron hates his stupid brain most of the time. It always comes up with the worst scenarios and leaves a mess of spiralling thoughts behind. He squeezes his eyes shut as hard he can as if that would erase the vision from his mind. 

The door opens once more and this time it is actually Robert. Aaron drops the mug into the sink and quickly dries off his hands.

Robert puts his keys on the mantelpiece and slips out of his jacket, not saying a single word. His face is unreadable.

“And?” Liv asks him impatiently, waving the spatula. 

Aaron’s stomach sinks, like it’s rushing towards his feet, dragging his whole body down with it. “Rob?”

Robert walks over to the kitchen, still silent and Aaron wants to throttle him.

“Well, Jimmy was not amused…” Robert sighs heavily.

Now Aaron wants to throttle Jimmy. If he sent Robert away without accepting his offer, Aaron is gonna finish him. He thought those two were something like friends back then! 

Suddenly Robert’s face lights up into a megawatt smile. “But my offer was so good, he just had to accept it! Say hi to the new co-owner of Home James Haulage!” The freckled face is nearly split in half with that broad smirk and Aaron almost squeals in delight, because this is old-Robert shining through.

This is his cocky, smug, arrogant nightmare of a husband right there! With his suit and his smirk and his styled hair and fuck, Aaron can’t hold back, he almost crushes him in a hug. Robert! All the words are stuck in his too tight throat and so he just breathes in the scent of his man. 

Liv joins them and then they’re standing together in the kitchen, all three wrapped up in each other’s arms. An unlikely family, but against all odds their bond is strong and for the first time since Aaron drove back with Robert from the Isle of Wight, he’s got hope that things will finally look up. 

That Harry debacle will sort itself out, given enough time. Vic and her son will come back to Emmerdale in a few weeks and then they and Robert can start over. Until then Robert will be in therapy, he will have a job, a purpose. It’s going to be alright. 

They are going to be alright. 

 

-      -

 

They have a lovely dinner that evening and Aaron is buzzing. This is the best since Robert came home. The homemade pasta is steaming on the table, spreading that lovely smell of tomatoes and oregano, their wine glasses are filled with grape juice because they don‘t drink alcohol when Liv is around. Aaron still feels giddy as if he was drunk. They are laughing a lot and it‘s like old times. 

The only downside is that Seb is missing and Aaron vows himself to text him later. With all the stuff going on, he didn‘t answer some of Seb‘s whatsapps and he feels guilty about that. He never wants to give the boy the impression that he‘s not wanted.  

Liv is drumming with her fingers on the edge of the table. “So, I‘m out. Give you two grandpas some alone time.“ And with that she gets up. Before they can return anything to her little tease, she adds with a wink: “And I will be crashing at the pub tonight, so you can… well, do things that shall not be named.”

And that is sobering him up in a nanosecond, a snarky remark dying on Aaron’s tongue and he just fakes a small chuckle while he quickly stands up and starts carrying the dirty dishes to the counter. 

Liv’s referring to sex and that’s a thing they haven’t done yet.

Which is an absolute novelty - considering their explosive, steamy history. Being together for over two weeks without having sex. What might be normal for other pairings, wasn’t for them. Never. They’d always been all over each other once they’d been alone. Aaron remembers this all too well and he’s pretty sure that Robert does too and it’s the elephant in the room that they both were avoiding so far. 

To be fair, there wasn’t the right moment so far. Robert was too shaken and vulnerable and as much as Aaron wanted him, craved any bit of intimacy - and god, he did want Robert so badly after all those years, he felt like bursting with hot, desperate need! - but it just wasn’t the time for it. 

He keeps himself busy with cleaning the kitchen, not wanting his sister to spot his half hard cock in his skinny jeans and hopes the inappropriate swelling will go down anytime soon. Liv grabs her stuff and says goodbye and Aaron shouts it back over his shoulder without fully turning around. 

After the door falls into lock, silence settles in the room. He knows that Robert is still sitting at the table, he can feel his presence and it makes his skin tingle. A chair is being pushed back, scraping loudly over the floor. Quiet footsteps are coming closer and then Robert’s warm body is pressing against his back and hot breath tickles his neck. 

A shudder runs down his spine and all his hairs stand up immediately. 

“Robert…” he whispers.

Soft lips are pecking the skin right under his hairline, mouthing over to his right shoulder, where blunt teeth are gently nibbling, making the intention behind those moves very clear. 

“We don’t…” he swallows thickly, “We don’t have to.”

For once, Aaron wants to do this right. Taking it slow was never their fortune, but for fucking once it feels like it’s the right thing to do. 

Robert’s hands are sneaking around his belly and wandering down and down and to the waistline and below… Aaron gasps when Robert’s huge palm is pressing down on his bulge. Oh god. It’s such a simple touch, but after all those years! After all those years it’s not his own hand down there and fuck. His knees are about to give in and Aaron has to grab the kitchen counter to stabilise himself. 

“But you want it,” Robert whispers back.

Aaron thinks that Robert’s answer feels damn wrong - because this isn’t about him, is it? - and just when he wants to say so, he’s being spun around and his lips are sealed with a fierce kiss. 

Chapter Text

Robert storms down, the air is cooler in the kitchen than upstairs, but it’s still too hot. He is too hot, like he’s burning. Burning with shame and humiliation. 

Gasping for air, he plants his hand on his hips and stares through the kitchen window into the dark backyard which is only being lit up by pale moonlight. 

Sock padded footsteps are coming down the stairs and Robert wishes he could just disappear into thin air and avoid this forever. 

“Rob-”

“Don’t.” His voice sounds weird to his own ears, stiff and hoarse. 

Aaron stops behind him and Robert keeps his body angled in the other direction, because he can’t face him. Not when he feels so damn confused and raw and insecure. 

“It’s okay, I don’t care,” his husband says behind him, because when has the stubborn Dingle ever listened to him. 

I do!” he snaps, furious. “I fucking care!” 

Of course he cares!

If there is one thing that never was an issue between them, it’s sex. It all started with sex, amazing, mindblowing, earthshattering sex. Even when they were fighting, they’d still have sex, maybe the best sex ever. 

And now… What is left?

“It happens,” Aaron says behind him and fuck, his voice is so bloody soft and understanding and Robert can’t bear it. He feels like his skin is burning off. 

“Stop it.”

“It’s normal, after everything you've been through…”

“I said. Stop.”

Aaron needs to stop talking now. Robert can’t have it. When a hand touches his shoulder carefully, too carefully, too gentle, too loving, he flinches. 

“It’s okay, it’ll be okay,” Aaron murmurs.

“Shut the fuck up!” he all but yells, word bursting out of his body, spit flying from his lips. 

This time Aaron does shut up and takes a step back, his hand slides off Robert’s shoulder and the skin feels extra cold where the warmth of the palm is missing now.

“How is this okay?! ” Robert hisses. Fuck, he can’t even turn around to look his husband in the fucking eye. This is not okay, none of this is okay.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron whispers and his voice breaks. “Sorry.”

Robert wants to slam his fists against the marble counter in frustration, because Aaron apologising is just as bad as his understanding tone and his caring gestures. Aaron should not apologise. What is he even doing apologising for?

Robert is the disappointment. Robert is the fucked up one here. Robert is the broken one. 

“Just go upstairs,” he presses out, “Just-... I need… I wanna be alone.”

“Robert-” Aaron starts, but then nothing else follows. 

He hears him standing on the spot, breathing, shifting. Closing his eyes, Robert just waits for him to leave, which he eventually does. Only when Robert hears the bedroom door being closed, does he allow himself to breathe. He gasps for air and tilts his head back, facing the ceiling. 

What is happening with him? What the hell is wrong with him?

It was such a great day. He made it out of bed, he felt better than the past few days, more comfortable in his own skin and then Aaron suggested this great opportunity to get a share of Home James Haulage and Robert nailed it. He slipped into his suit, into a mindset he thought he had long forgotten - except he hadn’t. The conversation with Jimmy had been good, a bit rusty at the beginning, but hey, he’s been out of business for a decade, alright? He got the deal in the end and Liv’s and Aaron’s cheering and proud looks were everything. The success felt so revitalising and Robert noticed that pleasant buzz in his guts, like his body and his mind were slowly waking up after a too long winter sleep. Dinner was lovely too, without any signs of tension, without awkward silence. 

And then Liv made that remark about them having sex and it was like a bucket of ice cold water was gushed out over Robert’s head. 

The fact that they haven’t had sex yet hit him absolutely out of nowhere. Robert was so caught up in his own mind that sex didn’t even cross his thoughts.

Which is absurd! He spent years and years fantasising about Aaron in hundreds of different ways when all he had was his hand and a bit of spit in his cell. And everytime he reached a quick orgasm, desperate noises being stifled with his pillow, it left him hollow. Aching. For a touch that wasn’t his own. Sometimes the need for Aaron drove him crazy. 

And now he’s home and it hasn’t even crossed his mind. 

So he walked over to Aaron and felt his arousal, noticed his flushed cheeks and laboured breath and it dawned him that Aaron was only holding back for Robert’s sake. 

And Robert couldn’t have that, so they kissed and went upstairs and it started like it had countless times before between them. Aaron felt wonderful in his arms and he made those wonderful needy, little sounds as he rolled his hips and grinded his crotch against Robert’s thigh. 

Robert remembered how those noises used to catapult him straight into a blissed out heaven, but this time it was different. Weird. Robert knew how he should feel, but the reality was that he didn’t. He didn’t. But he tried, he really tried for Aaron, to make this good for him.

Robert should feel aroused, this was the man he loved for fucks sake! 

His dick stayed soft. 

For the first time in his adult life, Robert couldn’t get it up. After craving intimacy with Aaron for 11 bloody years - over a goddamn decade - he couldn’t when it was basically offered to him on a silver plate.

Robert presses the heels of his hands against his eyes as if that could erase the image of Aaron’s surprised face when he noticed it. Fuck! That utter shame and humiliation that made Robert want to crawl out of his own skin and just disappear. 

How is he ever supposed to look at Aaron again?

What the fuck is wrong with him?

Raking his hands through his hair, he slowly sinks to the ground and leans his back against the kitchen cupboards. It’s impossible to get his head around it. He thought he was doing better, he thought he was getting somewhere.

A fool, that’s what he’s been. Today, Robert took one step forward and two back. A desperate, strangled grunt erupts his throat through closed lips and he bumps his head back against the wood in frustration. 

Why can’t he be normal again, he thinks once more and despises that goddamn shadow of his former self that he became. 

Time is passing, Robert doesn’t know how much, but by now his arse is numb, his lower back hurts and he’s cold since he’s only wearing briefs and an undershirt. 

He is so grateful that Liv is crashing at the pub tonight and not witnessing the epic meltdown he’s having. Pathetic. 

Surely Aaron would be asleep by now, Robert thinks and tries to psyche himself up to go back to their bedroom again. Although the couch is kinda tempting, his adult brain tells him that he should go up. Aaron is probably angry at him and quite rightly so. He shouldn’t have lashed out like he did.

With a loudly thumping heart he climbs up the stairs and takes a few deep breaths in the hallway before he quietly pushes






the door open. 

Aaron’s heart clenches when he takes in Robert’s state. Despite his size and his long limbs, his husband looks so small in the doorframe. His freckled face is pale and his green eyes are glued to the floor.

“Didn’t think you’d still be awake.”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Well, sleeping was an impossible task after what happened, so of course Aaron stayed awake, half lying half sitting against the headboard of their bed, staring at the wall and brooding in the warm light of his bedside lamp. 

Robert slips under the cover, rolls on his back and pulls the blanket up to his chin. He looks so young like this. Like a broken, young boy and Aaron’s heart clenches again at the sight, it feels like breaking too. 

“Sorry I shouted at you,” Robert says with a low voice. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” Aaron insists. 

Robert huffs a bitter laugh and pulls a grimace, clearly not believing Aaron’s words, so he leans over, tries to get into Robert’s line of sight. When his husband tries to turn his head away, Aaron grabs his jaw and gently pulls him back. 

“The more you pressure yourself, the worse it will get. Believe me, I’ve been there.” Aaron looks straight in Robert’s green eyes to emphasise his words. “This takes time, healing takes time. This isn’t the fucking flu, Rob. And I meant what I said earlier, I don’t care. I don’t care how long it takes. We’ve got time, all the time in the world. I’ll wait and I’m here with you, always am. So, for once, please, let’s just take it slow, okay?” He smiles, strokes Robert’s cheekbone with his thumb and feels that mole right beside his ear he loves so much while his vision swims away with tears. Aaron tries to blink them away.  

The dimple on Robert’s chin starts wobbling and his eyes are getting glassy too.

“Aaron…” he starts with a trembling voice, “We’re shit at taking it slow.”

It’s such a typical Robert thing to aim for a joke in that messy emotional moment, Aaron sobs and laughs at the same time. 

“Well, I’m also shit at talking about feelings, but hey, I’m trying,” he jokes back and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. 

He shifts down, sneaks under the blanket and curls up against Robert’s side, putting his head right underneath his shoulder on his chest. Hearing that steady heartbeat makes him sigh and close his eyes. Aaron puts his hand right above the middle of Robert’s chest, feels it pulsing under his palm, slowly easing the tension in his body. Finally, he allows himself to relax, at almost 3am. 

“I love you,” he whispers and his eyelids are getting heavy. He expects to hear the same thing back but when it doesn’t come, Aaron blinks his eyes open again and frowns. 

“Why though?” Robert’s voice doesn’t sound like him at all. Too thin. “I don’t get it.”

Aaron twists his neck, tries to look at Robert from his position, but his husband is avoiding his gaze again. “Hey. Did you love me any less when I was struggling with my depression or my anxiety?”

“Of course not!” 

Of course not - Aaron wants to slap it through the thick forehead into Robert’s brain. “See? So go to sleep now, idiot.”

“Okay, boss.”

Robert’s corners of his mouth do a little jerk as if they wanted to turn into a smile. Satisfied with that, Aaron snuggles impossibly closer and turns his head down again. All his senses are filled with Robert, with his warmth, his smell and the sounds of his breathing and beating heart.

It’s how he falls asleep.

 

-     -

 

The days are okay after that, better than Aaron expected if he’s honest, but then the day comes where Liv is going back to London and his anxiety goes through the roof again. Her being home definitely helped and Aaron felt safer with her around. He wished she could stay a little longer, but she had to go back to her job in that restaurant in Soho. Plus she was currently working on her next exhibition which was about to open in spring. 

She presses two tickets for it into Aaron‘s palm, before she leaves and he’s so damn proud of her.

“You can go back to work, too, you know?” Robert says behind him while he’s still staring in awe at the tickets.

“Hm?” he blinks and looks up. 

“You can go. To the yard, I mean. I know you put it all on hold for me, the orders must be piling up.” Robert’s not wrong, Aaron did put his work mostly on hold, setting his priorities straight. “You should go back and deal with them before they dry out. It’s okay, I can handle being alone.”

Aaron looks Robert in the eye, searches for the lie in there. He doesn’t find it and lets his shoulders drop with a small sigh. “Are you sure?”

“It’s your business and I know how important it is for you. Seriously, I don’t need a babysitter. Besides, I’m starting at the Haulage in a few days anyway,” Robert smiles and wraps his arms around Aaron, pulling him into a hug. 

It doesn’t sit right with Aaron, not entirely, but he’s got to admit that Robert has a point. Some clients are indeed pretty pissed off by now and they already threatened to take their business elsewhere. 

“But if there’s anything… Robert, I mean it - anything! - You’re gonna call me, yeah?” he mutters against Robert’s soft and warm neck. 

“Yeah. Promise.”

 

-    -

 

Despite Robert’s promise and despite him having a better day today, Aaron still feels uneasy to leave him alone. It’s his stupid brain overthinking that makes his morning hell, that causes minutes to drag like hours. Every muscle of his body is tense, like he’s ready to jump and bolt from the scrapyard any second. 

After spending most of his time hunched over the boot of a Toyota that’s more than ready for the scrap heap, Aaron straightens his back with a groan and rolls his stiff shoulders. For the umpteenth time he checks his phone if there’s anything from Robert. There isn’t. 

He sighs, pulls his gloves off, throws them on the engine block and wipes with the back of his hand over his forehead. The February wind is gnawing ice cold at the skin on his face, but underneath his down jacket he’s sweating. It’s gross.

Aaron decides to take a break since it’s noon anyway, so he heads for the pub to grab a quick lunch. It’s been weeks since he went there the last time and he knows his mum will be properly pissed off. 

“Aw look! A stranger in our humble pub. Are you new to Emmerdale?” Chas bites out sarcastically as soon as he sets a foot into the building.

Aaron rolls his eyes, deciding to ignore her remark. “Hi mum. Pint and cheeseburger, please.”

She yells his order towards the kitchen, which makes his ears ring, and gives him long, silent once over while she pulls his beer. He feels his cheeks heating up under her glare. Jesus Christ, he’s on the wrong end of thirty, but his mum still makes him feel like he’s 17. 

“How are you then?” she asks eventually when she puts the glass in front of him.

“Fine.”

She huffs and crosses her arms. “You’ve been AWOL for weeks and this is all I get?! C’mon, Aaron!”

“Dunno what you wanna hear. I’m fine.” He doesn’t wanna talk to her about how he’s really doing, how he’s anxiety is through the roof with the fear of letting Robert down. He doesn’t wanna tell his mum how they’ve been struggling since Robert got home.

He would bet all his money that she’d find a way to somehow twist the whole thing into how Robert will drag him down and how Aaron should be careful, should take care of himself, and should put his own mental health first. 

“And that’s why you don’t show your face anymore?”

“Well, I’m here now,” he counters, annoyance bubbling to the surface. 

Chas makes a big movement to look over his shoulder behind him. “So, where’s Robert? Thought you two are basically glued together since he’s back?”

Aaron feels the hairs of his neck raising. Coming here was a mistake. “He’s at home, starts working next week,” he says shortly, pointing out this positive development and hoping it’s enough to keep her quiet.

No such luck with Chas Dingle.

She hums. “So I’ve heard yeah. Also heard about what happened with Harry…”

He doesn’t need a reminder of that episode, he really doesn’t. Vic and Harry are currently still in Ireland, trying to rebuild their relationship, trying to deal with the shitshow that happened in 2019 that changed so many lives forever. 

“Gonna sit over there,” he grits out and walks to one of the sofas they installed a few years ago instead of the old fashioned wooden booths. 

He nurses his pint grimly, wishing for a few minutes of peace, but of course his mum follows him immediately. Aaron does love her, she is mum after all, but fuck, there are moments where he can’t stand being near her. Now is one of those moments. Why can’t she sense this, why can’t she see this?

“Robert’s disappeared from the village after that and you are nowhere to be seen either. Is he keeping you away from us?” She has the nerve to ask him that in all seriousness. 

“Mum!” he hisses at her. “Enough!”

“He’s back and suddenly your family, your friends and your business don’t count anymore! I know the scrapyard has been closed, so don’t try to deny it!” Her manicured finger nail is pointed in his direction and she glares at him. “You can’t just drop everything because of him!”

“I didn’t drop anything!” he insists, feeling like a little child again. 

“It was my birthday last Monday,” she says, sounding sad all of a sudden and Aaron is hit with a pang of guilt. 

Okay, he totally forgot his mum’s birthday and he feels like shit. Fuck, he hasn’t even called. Sighing deeply, he rubs his forehead and closes his eyes for a second. “I’m sorry, mum. Okay? Let’s just… leave it,” he pleads. 

Aaron is so tired of this convo, he just wants to get his food and leave again. Sending a silent curse towards the kitchen for Marlon to hurry the hell up. 

“I just don’t want you to risk your business and cut us all out because of Robert,” Chas says and sits on the chair opposite of him. 

Here we go, Aaron knew she would turn and twist everything, but she doesn’t know shit! He reaches the point where she just pushed the final button and now his anger explodes inside of him.

“This isn’t about me, mum!” he snaps. “He needs me, okay? And just so you know, I am back at work, alright? And now I want my bloody burger and to eat my lunch in peace, is that too much to ask?” Her expression falters and she looks down on her hands, but now that Aaron started, he isn’t finished yet. “And you do know that you only asked me where he is, but not how he is, right? Don’t you wanna know?! Do you even care?” Aaron’s voice is rising with every word. Chas’ looks up and her eyes widen in surprise. “I’ll give you the answer: you don’t!” 

She stares at him, clearly flustered by his harsh words and yeah, that was harsh, but it was also the truth and Aaron doesn’t feel sorry for what he said. A few villagers are looking over to them, Dan, Doug and Al, but he can’t bring himself to be bothered with it, he is that angry. 

It’s been 11 years and she still can’t hold her remarks back when it comes to Robert. Aaron is tired of it, so so tired. 

“So how is he then?” his mum finally asks, the aggressive bite now vanished from her voice. 

“How do you think he is?!” He shakes his head and questions if she’s even really interested or if she only asked because he basically made her. “He’s been in prison for over a decade, for fucks sake. It’s not like he’s barfing rainbows right now.”

Chas ducks her head again at his blunt language and stays silent for a moment, mulling over what he said. Right at that moment Marlon saves them both from the awkwardness of the moment, when he comes out of the kitchen with Aaron’s lunch. 

“Gonna eat at the yard,” he mutters to his mum and gets up from the sofa, turning to Marlon: “Can you pack it up? To go?”

Aaron waits at the bar with tense shoulders while the chef puts his burger into one of those styrofoam boxes and waits for Chas to come over, too. He waits for another round of lectures, but it doesn’t come. Before he leaves the pub he glances over to the couch and his mum still sits there with her hands folded in her lap. For a second he debates if he should apologise for being so hard on her, but then he decides against it.

The truth hurts, but maybe she needed to hear it. He doesn’t say goodbye when he walks out.

 

-     -

 

The doorbell rings too loud into the silence of the Mill and Robert jumps on the couch. He’s currently curled up there with a book, but he wasn’t reading really. His mind is reeling with all sorts of thoughts. 

His upcoming work, of course. Robert started reading business magazines and online articles again to close the gap of 11 missing years in the economic sector. 

And then he thinks about his therapy, his first appointment next week. A thought that makes him more anxious and nervous than the aspect of getting back to normal work. He doesn’t know what to expect. What if that therapist tells him that he’s broken forever? That he will never be his old self again? It’s Robert’s biggest fear, being stuck in this state, with that permanent knot in his belly that keeps dragging him down and down, hot and heavy. 

Aaron is so full of hope that everything will work out eventually. Time’s a healer and all that, but what if it isn’t in this case? It would be just Robert’s luck, like his father always predicted: everything he touches, he ruins. 

Then his mind is bouncing back and forth between Aaron and Jack, occasionally Liv slips into the mix because he misses her already. And Seb, of course. 

He still has to contact Rebecca and tell her he’s out of prison. He wants to see Seb, especially after everything Aaron told him about the boy, but fuck. Thinking about it alone is so damn terrifying. And so Robert is dragging his feet, feeling like the coward that he is. As a father his son should be his number one priority. It’s yet more evidence how spectacularly he failed on this field. 

The bell rings again and Robert jumps again.

Reluctantly he gets up and makes his way slowly to the door. He isn’t keen on seeing anyone right now and he knows Aaron took his keys this morning, so he knows it must be someone else. But his curiosity wins in the end and Robert peeks a look through the peephole. 

“What the-” he mutters and pulls the door open.

The sudden gust messes with Chas’ hair and she looks startled.

“Since when do you ring the bell?!” Robert asks.

Aaron’s mother gives him a quick once over and then she says: “Since I came in one day and he was in a bad mood and kicked me out.”

He stares at her. The woman hated his guts more often than not. The woman who wanted to see her son basically with everyone else but him.

“Aaron’s not here, he’s working,” he says.

“I know,” she counters and Robert raises his eyebrows. “I came to see you.”

He blinks. Like… what? Only a second later his walls are rising up quickly. He isn’t ready for an argument with Chas Dingle. Old-Robert could deal with her snarky remarks against him, would dish out just the same, but current-Robert doesn’t have it in him. Maybe the sudden insecurity is showing on his face, because she’s holding up her hand, which carries a paper bag.

“I came in peace. I brought you food.”

His gaze flicks between her face and the bag. “What?” he says dumbly.

“Have you eaten?” Chas wants to know.

He narrows his eyes. “This isn’t poisoned, is it?” he asks back, because what the heck?! Since when is she nice to him, so the question seems legit.

It causes her to bark out a short laugh.

“Don’t be daft.”

“I haven’t eaten.” He slowly takes the bag out of her hand and only then he realises that he hasn’t even thought about food all day. His head was so busy with all other stuff that it didn’t even cross his mind. 

Damn, he doesn’t even know how late it is.

While Aaron is working, he just actually spent the whole day on the couch staring into nothing and dwelling on dark thoughts. Robert lowers his gaze in shame, feeling self-conscious and vulnerable again.

He hasn’t showered yet. 

“Yeah. When I suffered from PTSD…” Chas starts carefully and his eyes are snapping up to her face. “I forgot to eat on most days.” With a racing heart he wonders what she knows, how much she knows, if Aaron told her something. “Aaron was in the pub earlier… and he didn’t say anything specific!” she adds quickly as if she could read his mind. “But from what he did say I kinda figured that you might... need food.” 

He swallows and counts silently to twenty to calm his heart back down. Of course Aaron hasn’t given her details, he would never do that behind his back, Robert reminds himself. Since they are still standing at the threshold of the Mill, the cold winter air is seeping through his thin shirt and gives him goosebumps all over.

“Thanks,” he says and it sounds stiff. 

Honestly, he isn’t sure how to handle this whole situation. Chas Dingle, of all people, is the third person after Aaron and Liv that knows - or at least suspects - that he isn’t well, that he’s struggling. He feels stripped naked under her intense gaze, although it’s friendly. Maybe it’s that friendliness that makes it weird. He isn’t quite used to Chas in combination with that word. 

“Okay,” she smiles at him and pulls her hat deeper over her black curls. “I’ll go back then, before Marlon causes chaos again.”

Robert nods like a robot, still trying to figure out what was happening. She turns around and walks over their yard back to the street and he stares after her, dumbfounded, before he closes the door in slow motion.

“Well, fuck,” he says out loud to no one in particular, “that was awkward.” 

 

-    -

 

Aaron hurries into the Mill after having to deal with an exceptionally difficult client on the weekend. It’s the first of March and the weather is a bitch and he sighs when the warmth of his home welcomes him like a gentle touch. A second later the delicious smell of food seeps into his olfactory system. 

“I’m home!” he shouts, shimmies out of his jacket and makes his way to the kitchen, only to stop dead in his tracks at the sight that is unfolding in front of him.   

Robert closes the oven with his elbow, then he stirs something on the stove with his right hand and uses the other to reduce the heat in the oven. He licks the spoon, tasting whatever he’s cooking, before he adds the tiniest amount of basil and oregano. 

There are different pots on the stove, there’s something in the oven and steam is emerging from the rice cooker that Aaron last saw in 2019.

The counter is an absolute mess, dirty bowls are piling up, cutting boards and knives are lying in white dust - which Aaron supposes is flour. Herbs and spices are making the chaos complete.

“Robert…” 

His husband lets out a little shriek and swirls around. “Jesus Aaron, you scared me half to death. Get a bloody bell around your neck or something.”

Robert is wearing an apron and he’s looking stressed. Aaron spots flour in his hair. 

He gets it, knows what’s happening. Seb is coming.

Seb is coming and Robert is freaking out.

Aaron walks over to him and puts his hands on Robert’s biceps and rubs carefully up and down. 

“I made my Butter Chicken, but then I was thinking what if he doesn’t like Indian food?” Robert starts bubbling, radiating nervous energy. “Or maybe he’s vegetarian? So I quickly made some pasta with tomato sauce. But maybe he’s got a gluten intolerance or something, so I made a gluten-free pizza.”

Aaron glances into the oven and sees the cheese slowly melting. He doesn’t have the heart to ask Robert if he thought about lactose intolerance as well, because his husband surely would make a fourth dish. 

“Where did you get the gluten-free flour?” he asks instead.

“I went to David’s.”

Wow, this is big. Robert hasn’t been there since the encounter with Wendy Posner. 

“It has to be perfect, Aaron. I has to be.”

The green eyes are hiding none of his anxiety and Aaron wants nothing more than to pull Robert into a comforting hug, but a little alarm at the rice cooker goes off and he quickly turns around to switch it off. 

Knowing all too well that the words ‘It’ll be fine’ will fall on death ears, Aaron settles for a reassuring “I’m sure he’s gonna love your food.”

Two days ago, Robert finally called Rebecca and informed her about his release from prison. It was an awkward conversation, at least on Robert’s side from what Aaron could see and hear, but all in all it went okay. Better than he thought. Only two hours later Seb sent him a whatsapp, basically inviting himself to lunch on Saturday. 

And here they are now. 

“How late is it?” Robert says while scraping the rice into a glass bowl. 

“He’ll be here in ten minutes. I’ll set the table.”

This is something he can actually do to support Robert. To be fair, even if Aaron would have been at home this morning, he wouldn’t have been any help in the kitchen. He sucks at cooking and they both know it. 

Just when he puts down the last knife, the doorbell rings. Robert freezes in the middle of his hurried cleaning up like a deer caught in the headlights. 

“I’ll go and open it,” Aaron says quickly, aiming to keep his voice calm. “It’s gonna be alright, Robert. Everything’s perfect.”

Deep down, he’s nervous himself. Meeting Seb is huge for Robert and today is gonna mark a milestone in Robert’s recovery process. With a loud thumping heart Aaron opens the door and is not only met with his little mate, but also with Ross Barton.

Urgh.

“Long time no see, Dingle,” Ross says and God his voice still has that same nasty sound like he remembers. 

Of course Seb needed someone to give him a lift to Emmerdale, Aaron could have spent the rest of his life happily without meeting the other man again though. 

“Ross.” He nods, forcing himself to stay civil in front of Seb. For a horrible moment he fears, Ross might want to come in - maybe even join them for lunch, but then Ross looks down at Seb and squeezes his shoulder.

“Okay, mate. I’ll pick you up in two hours, alright?”

Only two hours, Aaron feels a pang in his belly. He bites his tongue. They are at mercy of Rebecca and Ross, because they have basically no rights and Aaron hates it. 

“I’m at the pub. If anything happens.” Ross gives Aaron a look, down from his high horse and Aaron’s fist itches with the need to knock that idiot off his feet.

Instead he presses his lips together and nods again. 

Ross turns around and walks off and only then Aaron forces his shoulders to relax. Finally he can focus on Seb and takes him in. It’s probably irrational, but it seems like the boy has grown a bit since they last met each other, although it was only a few weeks ago.

“Hiya!” He holds his fist up for their usual greeting, but Seb surprises him by stepping forward and hugging him around his chest. “Whoah. Okay. Hi,” he mumbles and grins dopily. 

The boy who should have been his boy. The boy who he wanted to adopt and care for and guide through life. 

“Hi, Aaron.”

“C’mon, let’s go in. It’s freezing and inside someone’s already waiting for you.”

He gently guides Seb into the living room and






around the corner.

Robert stops breathing as soon as his eyes land on his son. His son! 

He heard Aaron talking to someone while he stood back there like an idiot, waiting, terrified, trying not to throw up.

Seb is so big now. It feels like yesterday the nurse carefully put the tiny baby into his arms and left Robert in total limbo. Because as soon as he set his eyes on the boy he knew he was screwed. He loved him from the first second he held him. 

He remembers how Seb was sitting in his pram, chewing a pretzel, his chin covered in spit. Now Robert is met with a teenager. Gone is that baby fat, but the hair is still red like copper and Robert recalls him washing the little boy’s hair with strawberry shampoo while he sang those god awful kids tunes to prevent him from screaming. Fuck, he had no idea how to parent the little one, how to do it right, but Aaron was there with his magic touch. Somehow he could calm an upset Seb down like no one else. And the more he watched Aaron carrying and cuddling and playing with his boy, the more he thought yes, this is it. This was what he wanted - a family. 

It was never on his mind before. Lachlan has been pretty much an off-putting example and Chrissie and he have been focused on their careers more than anything else, Robert driven with the blind energy to prove himself to a dead Jack Sugden.

He’s been an idiot. And he realised that when he finally understood what having a family meant. Stability. Something you look forward to coming home to after work. Home. Loving and being loved back. Aaron and Seb loved him back unconditionally, looked at him like he hung the moon and the stars, no matter if they were fighting or Seb threw a tantrum… 

They loved each other regardless. 

And then Robert ruined it. 

He stares into his son’s face and he feels his heart crumbling and shrinking due to a pain he can hardly stand. He promised baby Seb to never let him down, to do a better job than Jack did with him - and he broke it. He broke everything, broke his promise and contact and spent years looking at photographs instead. 

A noise pulls him out of his thoughts when Aaron clears his throat and Robert suddenly notices that he’s been staring, just staring like a creep. 

“Hi Seb,” he says finally and he hopes it’s not awkward, but damn, it feels terribly awkward. 

He kinda wants to hug Seb, but he knows he can’t just jump right back to how close they once were. It leaves him with that ache in his chest.

“Nice outfit,” Seb replies.

Robert frowns and looks down at himself, confused. He’s still wearing the apron. It says ‘I rub my meat’ in black capital letters on purple fabric. A joke from Vic, when she gave it to him one Christmas back when life was easier. Robert quickly pulls it off his head with shaky fingers and swallows his humiliation down through a throat that feels too tight. 

“Robert made lunch. You’ll love it, he’s an amazing cook,” Aaron says and slaps Seb’s shoulder, trying to save the situation.

Bless him. Robert is so grateful that he’s here. 

“Err, yeah. I made pasta. And pizza. And Butter Chicken with rice,” Robert lists off and half turns around to the counter to point with his thumb to the various pots and bowls. 

“You made three dishes?” Seb comes closer and sniffs the air. 

“I… I didn’t know what you like…” Robert admits sheepishly and starts putting the food on the table to avoid Seb’s gaze. 

“I like falafel.”

Oh.

Robert freezes, mind running with the question which ingredients you need to make falafel. Maybe when he searches for a recipe he can make them quickly. How hard can it be, right? His belly burns hot and he feels like an idiot when he pulls out his phone to open his cooking app. 

“I was only joking.”

Finally he looks up at Seb and sees the boy grinning.

Oh.

Okay. Robert doesn’t really know what to say now, so he just continues to finish his food and turns his back to 






him and Seb again. 

“Seb,” Aaron whispers like a warning. Seriously, Robert doesn’t need these kinda jokes on top of everything.

Aaron knows too well how Robert is feeling right now. Just like he felt last year when he literally bumped into Seb in Liverpool. He knows all the complicated feelings Robert must have, Aaron could see the love, the pain, the regret and self-hatred in those green eyes. But Seb is just a teenager, totally unaware of the things Robert went through and how his father’s mind works, and teenagers can be so fucking cruel without really meaning to. 

Robert turns around with the pizza on a huge plate and keeps his eyes downcast. His face is a bit pale and the jaw tense and fuck, this has to be good today, Aaron thinks. It has to. 

“What’s on it?” Seb asks and pulls a chair back to sit down.

“Uhm. Ham and pineapple,” Robert says with a too quiet voice. 

The boy’s face lights up then. “Oh yes, nice! I love pineapple on pizza!” he says with a genuine grin, rubbing his hands eagerly. 

Aaron lets out a grunt and rolls his eyes as he sits down as well. “You both have no taste at all. Pineapple does not belong on pizza.”

Robert smiles then, a small smile, but it’s definitely there. “It’s delicious, Azza,” he insists.

They share a soft look and Aaron is reminded how often they had this very same discussion back then. It truly became like a running gag between them, which always left them bickering ‘like an old couple’ how Liv used to tease them. And yeah, they did bicker, but never with real heat behind it and they almost ended up every time making out passionately. 

“It is, right? The perfect combination of sweet and sour!” Seb most definitely has no idea that he basically just quoted Robert’s standard sentence on that matter, when he’s grabbing two big slices at once to pull them over on his plate.

Robert looks at Seb then and his green eyes go soft. Aaron melts inside. His family is reunited again and even though he was dreaming about this moment a lot, he never dared to hope for it to happen. He didn’t want to jinx it. But here they were, against all odds. 

Seriously, Aaron hates pineapple on pizza, but the bloody fruit broke the ice around the table so it’s at least good for something. The atmosphere is a bit lighter now and he strongly hopes they can leave the bumpy start behind them. 

Seb takes a bite and then moans as he chews slowly. “Thiff if good!” he mumbles.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Robert says, probably out of reflex, totally unaware that it’s such a dad thing to say.

But Seb definitely has picked up on it, because Aaron notices the interested look the boy gives his father, who is scooping chicken out of the pot. 

Aaron settles for pasta, it’s his favourite and it always reminds him of that infamous Valentine’s dinner Robert made. 

Seb eats like he hasn’t got any food in the past few weeks and Aaron reckons it’s the metabolism of a teenager in puberty. He tries the pasta and the Indian food as well and then wolves down another slice of the pizza.

Robert and Aaron are long finished by now, both staring incredulously at the amounts the boy can devour. 

“Well, and here I thought you made way too much…” Aaron jokes to his husband.

With a pleased smile, Robert looks around on the table.

“Seriously, it was sooo good,” Seb says again. “Mum isn’t cooking, really, because she’s too scared to burn down the house and Ross can’t cook at all…” How easily Seb talks about his mother’s brain damage hits Aaron with surprise every time. “So we mostly have takeaway.” Seb shrugs.

It’s kinda sad though. Aaron knows first hand that you can live off of takeaway, because he mostly did the same during Robert’s time in jail… but it’s nothing compared to a fresh, home cooked meal without glutamate and all the shit the diners put into it to intensify the taste.

“Are you a professional or something?” Seb asks Robert. 

“No, I… err… own a share of a haulage company.” Robert bites his lip and then he adds: “I worked in the kitchen in prison and I’d rather keep doing it as a hobby.”

Aaro didn’t expect his husband to bring that topic up so early, but maybe he wants to 






rip the band aid off. Might as well get over it now. Robert glances at Seb, obviously waiting for the inevitable questions to drop. 

The teen is gnawing his bottom lip now and he draws his eyebrows together and Robert sits there patiently waiting. He won’t pressure Seb, but he must have things on his chest he needs to get off. 

“I always imagined you with a bald head, loads of tatts and arms like a body builder,” Seb says finally, shyly looking at Robert. “But you just look like the man from the photo album I found at home.”

Robert wonders if Seb spent time staring at old pictures thinking about him, just like he did in his cell. It’s such a bittersweet thought that makes his chest clench tightly. He wants to wrap his son into a hug so badly. 

“There were those blokes, yes. But only a few. It’s mostly a cliché, the guys in jail look just like ordinary people. Like you wouldn’t think they’re criminals.”

“Like you wouldn’t think they’re murderers,” Seb mutters and the words hit Robert’s core like an arrow. 

Now they are entering the terrain he always dreaded, the talk about Lee Posner and what he did. 

“Yeah,” he whispers, unsure what else to say.

Aaron gets up from the table, not without giving him a small encouraging smile, and starts cleaning up the table to give them some sort of privacy. 

“Aaron told me already that you did it. But that it was like an accident…” Robert nods along, giving Seb the time to sort his thoughts. “Do you regret it?”

“Every single day,” he replies truthfully. He had so much time to think about this question, it kept him awake so many nights. “Not only that he died, there is so much more I regret, really. Like breaking off with Aaron…” That fucking divorce hurt so much, it almost broke him. Still hurts. Suddenly Aaron is behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. ‘It’s okay, I understand, don’t dwell on stuff you can’t undo’ says the little gesture and Robert is eternally grateful for it. “Or cutting all my ties to you…” his voice starts shaking and he clears his throat. 

“You could have called. Or write me letters. Or at least send a fucking birthday card every year,” Seb says with audible hurt.

Robert could have done all that, but he didn’t. It’s so hard to explain it to a 14 year old though. There were good reasons back in 2019 when he pushed the people he loved the most away, he knows there were. It made sense in his twisted head back then. But when he’s looking now in Seb’s face, the only thing left is regret. Deepest regret and he wishes he could turn back time, but he can’t. He vows to make it up to his son and not give up before he earns his trust back. 

“I know,” he breathes and nods. “And I know it’s no excuse, but I wasn’t in a good place back then, and I thought you’d be better off without me. I knew you wouldn’t remember me anyway after a few months, because you were just too little back then and I just wanted you to have a normal life-”

“Yeah, right. A normal life. With Ross and my mum,” Seb snorts sarcastically and crosses his arms.

Aaron huffs a laugh behind him and Robert shoots him a stern look.

“What?” his husband says and shrugs. “He’s not wrong though, is he.”

Robert sighs. “Well, I thought I did the right thing,” he starts again, emphasising the word, “I thought you’d be better off without a dad in jail and getting bullied for that in school.”

Seb stares at him then with huge eyes. “You know, I told them,” the teen says slowly, “my mates. That my father is in prison for murder. They all thought it’s cool.”

Robert blinks back at his son. Excuse me. What? They thought it was cool? Seb was swaggering with stories about him? Not for one single second in all those 11 years that bizarre idea has crossed Robert's mind. 

“Jesus Christ, those kids today,” Aaron mutters at the kitchen counter.

Robert slumbs back into his chair and rubs his face, the tension of the whole day suddenly leaving his body and making him feel extremely drained. “I could use a schnaps right now.”

 

-     -

 

The rest of the two hours are flying by like seconds. They settle down on the couch and chat about Seb’s hobbies and interests. It turns out that Robert’s son is just a geek like his father and Robert gets up boxes with old comics from the basement, which they both start immediately to talk shop about. 

It warms Aaron’s heart to watch his favourite boys, bent over the colourful pictures, being so close their heads are almost bumping together. He can’t believe they’re bonding over something so stupid like comic books, a fascination that Aaron never really got. 

“Wow, this is awesome!” Seb says breathlessly. His mouth won’t close at all and he’s staring wide eyed at Robert’s collection of Marvel comics from the 80s and 90s.

“My mum started buying them for my birthday’s and Christmases,” Robert explains and smiles.

“What! You mean Santa isn’t real?!” Seb shrieks in mock-hurt and touches his chest.

Aaron huffs a quiet laugh in the kitchen. Oh God, the boy is such a sarcastic shit like his father, it’s scary actually. 

“When you’re done reading comics, I have a little snack and coke over here,” he says loudly and his heart does a little backflip when Robert and Seb look up at him in perfect sync with the exact same expression on their faces. 

“Those aren’t comics-” Seb starts and wrinkles his nose.

“-they’re graphic novels!” Robert finishes and shakes his head at Aaron. 

Aaron rolls his eyes good naturedly and isn’t offended when his snacks barely get any recognition. It’s just too good to see Robert and Seb like that together. His chest swells impossibly big with happiness and pride and of course there are tears now burning in his eyes. He wishes he could imprint that domestic moment in his mind forever, save it for inferior times. 

This should have been their life. Every day. 

The sound of the doorbell brings him back into reality, sobering him up instantly. Seb shuts his mouth in the middle of his sentence and Robert quickly looks down at his watch.

“Oh. It’s time.” 

Aaron hates that there is a time limit again. It reminds him of his visits in jail where always someone said those goddamn words. It’s time. Aaron hates it. 

Robert gives him an incredibly sad look, thinking probably the exact same thing.

But it’s inevitable and so Aaron opens the door to an ever so dumb glaring Ross Barton.

“Alright?” Ross says in lieu of a second greeting.

“Sure.” Aaron steps aside to make room for him to come in and Ross doesn’t hesitate to strut into their home.

“Ready to go, Seb?”  

Aaron doesn’t like him here, he feels like an intruder, like someone who shouldn’t





be allowed in their little bubble. 

Seb gets up from the couch reluctantly, slowly followed by Robert.

“How’s life outside, eh?” Ross asks him, blunt as ever. 

And surely he is not discussing his private life with Ross Barton, thanks a lot. 

“Amazing,” Robert deadpans, before he turns to Seb. His face softens when his eyes lock with Seb’s. “Guess this is it.”

“Yeah,” Seb drags the word, doesn’t move from the spot. 

Robert is so massively fed up with saying goodbye to people he loves. It’s something you’ll never get used to, it’s something that hurts every time anew. “This was good though?” He aims for a lighthearted tone, but it comes out a bit shaky. 

They had a bit of a rocky start, but then once his nerves calmed down and he regained a bit more confidence, it was great. Robert thought it was great at least.

To his immense relief, Seb nods. “Yeah, we should do it again!”

Yes! Yes, Robert wants that, of course he does! He and Aaron exchange a look and those icy blue eyes look just as hopeful and relieved how Robert feels. 

“Err, I think, Rebecca gets to decide that,” Ross chimes in, puffing out his chest as if this was some primal contest for dominance. 

Filled with a sudden rage, Robert wants to punch him. Aaron must feel the same, considering his clenching and unclenching fists and his grinding jaw. 

“He’s still my son,” Robert spits out and Aaron nods in agreement. 

“Well, he hasn't for the past 11 years, soooo…” Ross sneers, spreads his arms in a ‘go on then’-gesture and raises his chin.

The words are even worse than getting actually hit, because they hurt so much deeper, they hurt his soul. Because they’re true. But Robert doesn’t need Ross Barton of all bloody people to remind him of his guilt. He doesn’t need a reminder at all, because it’s always there and probably never going away anyway. 

God, Ross is still the macho idiot he always was and how Robert could ever think his son was better off with Rebecca and this moron, he has no idea. He wants to lash out verbally, fire a snarky remark back, but Seb is right here, standing with hanging shoulders between them and looking miserable. 

Robert’s anger fades. He doesn’t want to fight on Seb’s back, it’s just wrong. The boy has suffered enough under the situation. 

“I’ll talk to your mum, okay?” he says calmly and ignores Ross as best as he can. 

Seb bites his lip and then holds his fist up for a bump. It’s a bit weird when their knuckles collide, Robert can’t remember when he fist-bumped someone for the last time. Somehow it makes him feel incredibly old. But Seb doesn’t seem to mind, because he’s smiling. 

And Robert loves seeing that smile on that face. 

He wants him to be happy, always. 

Aaron gets a hug from Seb, since they know each other better and built some sort of friendship already. Robert wishes he could snap a picture of his boys together, to treasure this moment forever, but he’s holding back with Ross still standing there and eyeing everything like a hawk. 

Maybe next time, he thinks. Maybe next time I can hug him, too. 

Robert craves this so much, it’s overwhelming. He has to take a step back, create a visible gap between him and Seb to fight against that feeling. This will take time, he reminds himself. 

A few moments later, Seb gives him a last look and waves, before Ross pulls the door into the lock. The Mill goes silent again and it’s like a hole is dug into his chest. Fuck, he misses Seb already! He just got him back and now he’s gone again! And there is still so much he wanted to ask, he wants to know everything about Seb.

“Come here.“

While he’s still staring at the door, strong arms pull him into a warm hug and then he is surrounded by Aaron‘s smell and the stubble is scratching his neck. 

Robert hugs him back and closes his eyes, sags against Aaron‘s body. Of course his husband knows how he feels, because he probably feels the exact same. They are getting better again at this wordless communication, at reading each other by a look in the eyes or by noticing the tiniest changes in facial expression and gesture. Something that used to be so natural for them, but now needs effort to get back to how it was.

And technically, he knows it’s the same with Seb. He can‘t expect to rekindle his relationship with him from zero to 100 in a few hours. Seb barely knows Robert. So yeah, this will take time, he reminds himself once more, but damn. 

He wants his son here, permanently. He wants to help him with his homework and meet his friends. He wants to be the one who helps Seb navigate his own way through puberty with all the life changing obstacles like love and career choices. 

“That was a good start,” Aaron whispers and kisses the skin right above Robert’s shirt. 

Robert just tightens his grip around Aaron’s broad torso and buries his nose in his neck. 

His heart isn’t ready to count this first meeting as a success really, because Seb had to leave way too early for his liking and now the void inside Robert is swallowing up every positive feeling. 

But deep down he knows that his husband is right. And it’s good that Aaron is here to remind him of that. 

 

Chapter Text

Robert used to read Aaron like an open book. Even back when they weren’t really together and the accident with Katie happened it only took Robert one look at Aaron to know that the other man wasn’t coping at all. When that sick pervert showed up, it was Robert who picked up on Aaron’s stress, on the terror in his eyes. Not his mother or Paddy - no, Robert noticed the slightest changes in Aaron’s face colour, his twitching jaw or when his lips were bitten raw. One look and Robert knew something was off.

Also, Robert seemed to have a built-in lie detector right in his guts, a lie-detector that was specifically sensitive towards Aaron whenever he wasn’t honest. The little flicker in his eyes, the small crack of his voice - it was so bloody obvious!

With Aaron though he had a bond. And no, Robert did not believe in soulmates for a very long time, considering it some sort of teenage girl novel-fantasy. But then that grumpy, downright rude, closed-off mechanic came along and changed everything.

Growing up on the Sugden Farm under the strict regimen of his father and then spending years with the White family had been quite disillusioning when it came to big emotions, meaningful connections and deep bonds. 

And although he might have known it deep down for longer, it was that car crash in 2016 when Robert finally realised that this man was his soulmate. The prospect of letting Aaron drown in that lake was unbearable, unacceptable. It was something that Robert could have never lived with. So yes, he would have stayed with him.

But it wasn’t their time to die yet and when Aaron breathed his shaky ‘yes’ and accepted the ring, Robert knew he found something special, something rare. 

Time in jail hasn’t broken that bond. As soon as he laid his eyes on Aaron during that first visit, Robert could feel it. It wasn’t as strong as it used to be - of course it wasn’t after all those years - but it was still there and that’s what matters in the end.

It just had faded a bit, like the colours in old pictures.

Reading Aaron is harder now, since Robert has to re-learn the little quirks of his husband and he’s still too wrapped up in his own mind on many days.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t notice at first that Aaron started acting weird.

 

-     -

 

It’s so random at first. Sometimes Aaron would call from work and tell him that he’d come home later. Sometimes he had to start earlier. And he had to work on weekends, too. Not just Saturday, Sunday as well. 

And Robert is fine with Aaron working hard for his own business, he really is. Robert is the last person on earth to tell Aaron to cut short for him. He’d never do that. Seeing Aaron’s success in the scrap business is something that makes him proud and he knows that his husband is currently alone at the yard, so him spending more hours there makes sense.  

What doesn’t make sense is Aaron’s strange reaction to when he comes home from Home James Haulage one day. Aaron is sitting on the couch, his laptop on his legs and browsing something. Robert notices how startled he looks and how quickly he taps on the mousepad before he slams it shut. 

“Hiya, what’re you up to?” Robert asks and throws his keys on the mantelpiece.

“Nothing,” Aaron hurries to say and shoves the laptop under the cushions. “Nothing. Just a bit of online shopping.”

He looks up and smiles and that’s when Robert notices: the smile doesn’t quite reach Aaron’s eyes and his cheeks are slightly glowing as if he was embarrassed.

Aaron looks caught, Robert realises.

Aaron looks like he’s lying.

 

-    -

 

“Take your time, Robert.”

His therapist is a guy in his mid fifties who’s suffering from hair loss, overweight and has bad eyesight. Gregory Morris is looking at Robert through his thick, black rimmed glasses with that typical face you just would expect from a shrink: there is the smallest of smiles, but otherwise the expression is blank, unreadable. Clinical. 

He has a little writing pad in his lap and a tiny lead pencil in his left hand and Robert can’t stop thinking how old fashioned this is. 

It’s his third time at Doc Morris - haha, how funny is that - and so far there is basically no progress whatsoever. Which might have a lot to do with the fact that Robert is holding back. He doesn’t know how to put in words what’s wrong with him. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever have the words to talk about his wish to go back to jail, about his fears of failing, about how he can’t even get it up in bed. 

There are no words. Ever. Robert is very certain of it. So maybe this whole counselling is simply a waste of time - what is he even doing here? Spending a shit load of money just to sit around and stare at magnolia walls?

“I think I should be leaving,” Robert says slowly and nods more to himself than to Morris.

The doc looks at him and stays silent. Then he says calmly: “I can’t force you to stay here and talk to me, Robert. If you want to go, you can go and cancel our weekly appointments.” He makes a small gesture with his hand towards the door.

His tone is entirely friendly and Robert knows it’s the truth. No one can make him strip his soul bare in front of a stranger. It’s his choice. In prison, they had those group meetings with social workers and prison counsellors which were compulsory. But Robert isn’t on the Isle of Wight anymore, he’s free, he’s got choices now. 

He can leave.

He should leave.

But... then there is Aaron. 

He insisted on driving every time, saying that Robert might be too riled up after the sessions to drive safely on his own. Right now, Aaron is sitting in the waiting area and





waiting for Robert. Aaron’s seen different shrinks through the years, he knows exactly how his husband is feeling right now. The fear of opening up to someone you don’t know. The terrifying prospect of spilling your dark secrets, hidden thoughts, suppressed fears and silent hopes - and then getting some sort of clinical diagnosis in return. 

God knows, talking about his self harm and childhood abuse had been so damn hard. But once you took that first hurdle - the biggest, of course, seemingly insuperable - it got a lot easier. Once that cork had popped, Aaron found the words spilling out of his mouth. Sometimes he talked and talked until he had to stop himself to gasp for air. He discovered that therapists offered great advice, guided him through some rough waters like a safety line. 

Counselling did help him, a lot. He just hopes it does the same for Robert.

Aaron lets out a long and shaky breath and leans his head back against the wall. It’s a fairly nice waiting area where he’s sitting, with bright yellow walls, beige chairs and pictures of flowers and sunrises. The quiet pitter of water cuts through the silence of the room, because in the corner is a little fountain with an aquarium where goldfishes are slowly doing their lengths. Everything is supposed to be soothing and relaxing and although Aaron’s grumpy nature despises the overload of feng shui elements, he reckons it kinda serves the purpose.

 

His right arse cheek starts vibrating and makes a buzzing noise. Aaron fishes out his phone. It’s a whatsapp and his face lights up immediately.

 

Craig

Hi Aaron, it’s Craig. Remember me?

 

Aaron huffs a laugh. Of course he remembers him, how could he forget him, when there is hardly anything else he thinks about during his workdays at the yard.

 

                                    Of course I do

 

Craig

I might have something you want… 😉

 

Aaron shifts on his chair, barely able to bite back the grin that threatens to split his face in two.  

                                Yeah? When can we meet?

 

Craig

Someone’s eager!🤣

                                     Done with waiting

lost too much time already

 

He stares at his phone as if that would hurry up Craig to respond quickly. When the three dots start dancing and indicating that the other man is about to reply, Aaron speeds up.

 

Craig

Wednesday?

After work?

 

Aaron deflates slowly. They are supposed to have dinner with Diane on that day. Biting his left thumbnail, he types in his text.

                                Not good.

Another day?

 

Craig’s answer takes a few moments.

 

Craig

Not this week then.

Thursday next week?

 

Nooo, that is definitely too long from now, Aaron can’t wait that long! 

   

                                Nah, ok. Wednesday it is.

 

Craig

Thought your busy otherwise?

 

I’ll sort it. 

 

Craig

lol, bet you do.

 

Aaron huffs again and puts his phone back into his pocket. He doesn’t care if he came across eager to the other man, why should he pull off a show when he is - in fact - very eager! His phone is buzzing once more and this time Craig sent photos. Aaron opens them quickly and lets out a pleased noise.

“Yes, that’s it,” he mutters and clicks his tongue, definitely liking what he sees.

He can’t wait to meet Craig, if it only was Tuesday already. Aaron starts bouncing his leg up and down, trying to channel his excitement and his anticipation somehow. Wondering how long this session will take, he stares





at the door again.

Robert is so grateful for Aaron coming with him to these appointments. He feels safer with Aaron by his side and besides he’s not been driving a car since 2019. 

Just another reminder that he really needs to get better, he really needs to find himself again. And yeah, he wishes he could just get up from this armchair and escape from the therapist, the building… his fears and never look back. But he can’t. 

“You know my husband is sitting out there right now and expecting this to be a breakthrough,” Robert starts shakily, avoiding the calm gaze of Doc Morris entirely. “And I can’t… I have to make this work, you have to make me better again, because I can’t go on like this.” He stares at his trembling hands, shakes them and balls them to fists. “He waited so long for me and now he got this broken version of his husband back, instead of the man he knew and fell in love with. We’re not even husbands, you know, I just call him that in my head. I divorced him and pushed him away and I know I’m lucky to get another chance with him, I know that!” Robert realises he’s rambling now, but somehow he suddenly can’t stop himself anymore. “I think I’m a disappointment,” he nearly chokes on the words and his throat gets impossibly tight. “I think he’s seeing someone else.” Robert’s voice is barely a whisper anymore. 

And fuck, Robert wasn’t proud of himself when he pulled out that laptop from under the cushions as soon as Aaron went upstairs for the bathroom. He didn’t want to spy on his husband, the man he loves so deeply and trusts with his life - usually. 

But his messed up brain wouldn’t stop nagging him, constantly insisting how weird Aaron was acting, what a strange coincidence his extra work hours were. 

The thing is: Aaron doesn’t act shifty for no reason.

So despite knowing better, Robert opened the display and checked the browser history with a loud thumping heart and sweaty fingers. It was empty. The browser history was empty on firefox and safari and then Robert’s paranoid mind forced him to check google chrome as well. Empty. Aaron had deleted his cache completely. 

It was like a rug being pulled under Robert’s feet and he was free falling, down and down into a very dark rabbit hole. Whatever Aaron was doing with his laptop, he was hiding it from Robert.

“You have to make me better, doc,” he breathes and finally looks up. “You have to, because otherwise I’m losing him and I can’t lose him, I can’t…” Robert’s chin starts wobbling and he quickly puts his elbow on the arm rest and hides his chin by leaning his head on his palm. God, he hates feeling so vulnerable. “I can’t afford falling apart, falling apart is not an option, because I have to be the strong one, I always was and I... “ He swallows thickly and his throat clicks, his mind circling nonstop around the same thought: “I can’t fall apart.”

Then his eyes start burning, Gregory Morris’ office swims away with hot tears and Robert falls apart.

 

-    -

 

“No, no, you don’t understand, no one can know!” Aaron emphasizes, gripping his phone tight and biting his lip.

“Jeez, keep your hair on, I told you I would keep my mouth shut.”

“It’s just… no one can see me, if someone sees me, it’s over with all those gossips here,” Aaron sighs. 

Keeping a secret is so goddamn hard in Emmerdale. The fact that no one noticed his and Robert’s affair back in 2014 and 2015 is like a ridiculous miracle now, especially since they were so bloody obvious back then! Aaron remembers all too well how they were dancing around each other, shared secret looks and met for short moments on the bogs in the pub to steal a kiss or sometimes even a quick hand job. And although Aaron hated how they were doing this behind Chrissie’s back and feeling degraded to a dirty, little secret, he also recalls very vividly the excitement of it, how the fear of getting caught somehow put an extra layer of arousal on top of longing for the other man. 

Aaron would be lying if he wouldn’t admit that he feels a bit of said excitement right now. A bit of scheming, a bit of hiding stuff - he can’t deny that he missed it. Even if that makes him a total weirdo. God, this is so weird and wrong and yet, he can’t help it. Finally, his life is appealing again and Aaron feels alive.  

And now that he is extra careful compared to 2015, of course it most definitely is about to come out, isn’t it? It’s just his luck.

“Do you take me for an idiot or what? I said everything’s prepared.”

Aaron lets out a breath, he didn’t know he was holding. “Okay. Thanks. I owe you.”

“You bet your arse, you do.” A laughter booms into Aaron’s sensitive ear and then the line goes dead.

He turns around and runs into a firm chest. Aaron’s phone slips through his clammy fingers and he quickly catches it before it hits the gravel ground of the scrapyard letting out a small yelp, but it was a close thing. His heart pounds heavy in his chest.

Robert gives him a weird look, an expression he can’t quite decipher.

“Oh, hi! How long are you standing there?” Aaron clears his throat and forces his face to stay even.

Robert takes a step back and lowers his eyes. “Not long, err. I just arrived.”

Oh okay, that’s good. Aaron sighs quietly and the shock is slowly wearing off. For a moment he actually thought Robert might have overheard that phone call.

“Good, good,” he says quickly and puts his phone away.

“Who was it?” Robert asks nonchalantly.

“Hm?”

“On the phone,” Robert nods with






his chin towards the general direction where Aaron keeps his Samsung in the back pocket of his black jeans. 

“Oh, errm…” Aaron makes a pause as if he’s thinking about his answer. He probably actually is thinking about his answer. Robert’s heart sinks. “Just Cain.” Aaron flashes him a quick smile, before he turns around to the portacabin. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

Robert is rooted to the spot, his muscles rigid and unwilling to cooperate. Aaron just lied to his face, again. 

No one can know. If someone sees me it’s over.

The sentences he accidentally overheard from Aaron’s phone call are still ringing in his ear, loud and shrill. 

He never thought Aaron would cheat on him. Aaron, of all people. Who is the most faithful, loyal person Robert ever met. Who got irrationally jealous over Rebecca, who pleaded with teary eyes for ‘no more lies, Robert’. No more lies. 

No more lies.

Robert feels like he’s dying inside, while he forces his face to stay somewhat controlled. “I just wanted to stop by to bring you lunch.” The words taste like ash, but he pulls the corners of his mouth up to a smile.

“Oh yeah?” Aaron turns around and his gaze flicks to the plastic bag in Robert’s hand. “Have you been to the pub?”

“No, uhm, I was in Hotten. For the Haulage. Picked up some pasta on my way back.” 

Robert isn’t ready to show his face in the pub yet. Too many villagers. Too many Dingles. Too much Chas. Maybe he will go soon, hopefully, but not now. 

“Nice! Come on in then!” Aaron waves with his hand on the threshold of the trailer, because Robert is still standing in the middle of the yard like a total muppet. 

No more lies. 

He wants to scream his frustration into the cold Yorkshire April air. Aaron can’t do this to him, please God, or whoever is willing to listen up there. Not Aaron. Not his Aaron. Please no. Not after everything. 

Eventually he follows Aaron into the chaotic little office, where the mess is still prevailing like back then. Loose papers are covering every surface, dirty mugs are piling in the chalk-covered sink and the second chair is hidden under a hill of jackets, blue overalls and gloves and scarfs. Aaron picks up the clothes to make room for Robert and mutters: “Sorry for the chaos”, before he throws them carelessly into the corner of the portacabin.

Robert winces slightly at the utter mess - tidiness is just something Aaron won‘t learn anymore, he surely has other qualities, keeping things in order isn‘t one of them. 

And Robert loves him despite all his flaws, his chaotic nature, his grumpy attitude, his inability to cook, his nail biting and his snoring. Robert loves him so fucking much, because of those quirks, because it‘s Aaron - his snarky, funny, sexy, caring, selfless and passionate husband, who is supposed to be loyal and faithful. Who is supposed to be better than Robert. 

“Hey.“

A gentle touch on his arm startles him. Only then he notices his trembling hands and looks up into Aaron‘s soft blue eyes. 

“Zoned out again?“ he offers. 

Robert just nods, not trusting his voice right now. He gets a smile in return, so warm and loving and genuine, it makes his stomach flip. At the same time his heart is breaking because he can‘t lose this. Fuck. He can’t lose this. 

This sort of connection is so rare and precious and Robert is fairly sure you don‘t find that twice in life.

And yet Aaron seems to be seeing someone else. How could he possibly risk what they had for some random bloke? Of course his ugly brain is quick to give an explanation: Aaron’s affair isn’t just some random bloke, he must mean something. He must mean more than Robert. 

When they eat their lunch, Robert shivers although Aaron switched the heater on and his throat is so tight he can barely swallow. He isn‘t hungry anyway.

 

-     -

 

Aaron sighs and rubs his face, his body is leaning against the kitchen counter, feeling heavy and exhausted after another long day. The tupperware in the fridge and the faint smell of garlic are silently reproaching him - another dinner he missed. It’s not long now, Aaron tells himself, his secret will soon be out and then he can finally be normal again. The kettle clicks and he turns around with a low groan, the muscles in his back torturing him.

Footsteps are coming down the stairs.

“Hiya,” Aaron says over his shoulder while he’s making his brew. “Sorry I missed dinner.”

“Well, if you had something better to do…” 

Aaron tenses up. There is this tone again. Robert has been so snippy towards him for a few days now, his voice is cold and distanced and his sentences short and clipped. So it’s another bad day then.

“You know, just work. It’s stressing me out at the moment,” Aaron aims for a light mode, but he feels like he misses by a mile. 

“If you say so.”

Aaron peeks over to Robert, who just sat down on the couch and switched the telly on, pointedly turning his back to Aaron. No kiss, no hug - fuck, he got not even a lousy hello. 

He swallows hard and stirs his coffee. It’s so weird and awkward between them since Robert came over to the yard to bring lunch and Aaron can hardly stand that tension. They made such good progress with Liv being home, Robert’s job at the haulage and Seb’s first visit and now it is like back to square one. 

And Aaron feels inadequate again. Maybe he should call Liv and ask her if she wants to facetime Robert. Maybe she can get through to him again. He wishes she could come again, but with her upcoming vernissage it’s just not possible.

His heart sinks when he looks over to his husband. He wonders if it’s the counselling, the therapist might stir deeply buried emotions up and damn, Aaron knows how painful it is to tackle old demons. He takes a deep breath.

“Do you want a cuppa too?” he offers.

“At ten pm? I was actually planning to get some sleep later, so no thanks.” Robert does not turn around when he says it and then he turns the volume of the telly higher. 

The opening title of the current series he’s watching is booming through the living room and kitchen, making it nearly impossible to reply. But Robert is done with talking as it seems, Aaron reckons. He stands in the kitchen with the mug in his hands, unsure what to do. God, if he just wouldn’t feel so fucking helpless! There is an awful hot and heavy feeling in his belly at how wrong this whole situation is, so Aaron forces his legs to walk over to the couch and puts his hand on his husband’s shoulder and





squeezes. Robert flinches. It’s a reflex, his body acting before he can even think about it. The hand on his body disappears.

“Robert-” Aaron sounds weird.

Like he’s hurt or something. How dare he, Robert thinks bitterly. How dare he make this about himself, like he’s the wounded person. Like he isn’t the one who ripped out Robert’s heart and stomped with his feet on it. The desperation has given away for anger. 

Robert is angry. He’s fuming.

Aaron was the one who reached out to him, who wrote that letter after 11 years. Aaron kept their rings, Aaron kept all of his things like a fucking shrine. Aaron said he would be strong enough for both of them, Aaron convinced him to stay in Emmerdale. And now he’s fucking someone else? Robert wants to laugh and scream and cry in frustration.

Fuck you, Aaron. Fuck you. 

Robert can’t even look at him, can’t stomach looking into those blue eyes.

“Rob-” Aaron start’s again.

“I wanna watch this,” he interrupts him, which is a blatant lie of course, focussing on that show is an impossible task when his head is all over the place. 

It’s just… he can’t deal with Aaron now. He doesn’t want to. Robert’s pride kicked in full force in the past few days and opened up a rift between them and how - or if! - this might get closed and fixed and healed again is something that he stubbornly refuses to think about. 

Robert is aware that he’s stubborn, that he’s closed off towards Aaron and pushing him away. But for bloody once, he isn’t the bad guy, he isn’t in the wrong, he has a fucking right to do so! 

“Okay…” Aaron says quietly and Robert almost misses it due to the loud sounds from the dramatic background music and the spaceship war that’s currently unfolding on screen. He sounds like he wants to say more, but after a moment Robert hears him climbing up the stairs. 

Robert is not surprised, he didn’t expect Aaron to fight more - or to fight at all. Aaron probably gave up on him anyway by now. 

He knew it was coming, because he’s broken now and that’s hardly appealing, isn’t it. Aaron didn’t sign up for this shadow version of the man who used to be Robert Sugden. Now he’s just a guy who’s too scared to face a few Dingles in the village pub and who can’t satisfy his husband in bed. 

Robert squeezes his eyes shut to stop the humiliation from seeping through his body once more. As if that would help. There is no escape. Fuck.

He jumps up from the couch and starts pacing around, tense and furious like a tiger in a cage. He wonders if Chrissie felt the same when Aaron told her about their affair. 

Something bright is flashing up in the dark kitchen corner. Aaron must have forgotten his phone and apparently he just got a message. With four big strides Robert is at the counter, staring at the display, at two unread whatsapps on the lockscreen, before it goes dark again.

His fingers are shaking when he taps on screen to activate it again. And then he stares again, just stares without blinking. Black letters on grey rectangles. It’s fading to black. Robert taps again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Every time the screen turns off to save battery, Robert switches it on. But the words don’t magically change. They stay the same every time they light up. Mocking him. Laughing at him.

 

whatsapp 10 minutes ago

Seb 

Robert is gna flip out when u tell him

 

whatsapp 3 minutes ago

Craig

It was my pleasure. Speak soon.

 

So that bloke’s name is Craig. Aaron is sleeping with a Craig. Robert loathes the name and the guy already although they never met. Aaron never mentioned someone called Craig before. Never. 

And does Seb know? He definitely knows something that Robert doesn’t - so far. The thought breaks his heart even more which shouldn’t be possible, but somehow is. 

It was my pleasure.

And fuck, now Robert’s mind is picturing Aaron with another man, moaning and writhing, face slack with bliss. 

Suddenly he turns on his heels and bolts. Behind him the TV is still blaring and Robert just needs to get the fuck out of here.

He’s marching over the gravel towards the streets and takes big gulps of fresh air. Everything is a blur of anger, hurt, betrayal and then again untamed rage and somehow Robert finds himself in the Woolpack.

At this time only a handful of villagers are left. Leyla and Jai, who are sitting together over a bottle of wine, are looking at him and their mouths are falling open. A very old Bob is sitting in the corner in an armchair that’s like double of the old man’s size. Vanessa and Rhona are at the bar, chatting to Charity - the three women haven’t noticed Robert yet. 

It’s his first time in here since 2019, but Robert isn’t in the mood to appreciate the lovely makeover or even to do smalltalk.

Pulling out the wallet from his back pocket he closes the gap to the ladies and throws a 100 pound bill on the counter. 

“A bottle of your best whiskey,” he demands and three heads are flying around.

“Robert!” Vanessa is the first to speak and she is just as surprised as Charity and Rhona. 

“Please,” he adds, overly sweet and smiles at Charity. His face feels like a grimace and considering the frown on the feisty Dingle’s forehead it is one. 

“Welcome back to the village, Robert,” Rhona says warmly, obviously not able to sense his tension.

Robert doesn’t spare her a glance. He just wants the bloody alcohol to numb himself, to cut all those feelings inside him off. He is tired of feeling.  

“Not sure this is a good idea,” Charity crosses her arms. “How about you sit over there and I bring you a glass-”

“I said: a bottle of your best whiskey!” Robert presses out through lips that are still curled up to a grin. “I don’t want your suggestions, I don’t want your advice, I just want a bottle of your goddamn whiskey.”

Rhona’s friendly face is falling and now all three women are glaring at him, irritated. Eventually Charity moves very slowly, her eyes never leaving Robert’s face when she pulls out a bottle with a golden label from the rack next to the back door and hands it over.

“This is the best you have?!” Robert eyes the brand and purses his lips. For his purpose it’ll do though, he supposes. “Well, keep the change, I guess. As a tip. Although the service is still as lousy as the quality of products.”

Deep down is aware that he only dishes out to make others just as miserable like him. Because the hurt and anger on their faces makes him feel better, even for a tiny little second. It’s a pathetic mechanism of his brain, but Robert can’t stop himself. He is too far in that dark tunnel to make a u-turn now.

“I’m calling Aaron,” he hears Charity whispering when he leaves and he chuckles darkly. Good luck with that, he thinks, since Aaron’s phone is lying in the kitchen while he is upstairs in bed. 

“He still hasn’t changed,” Rhona sighs.

Robert pushes through the door without looking back, but the laughter is quickly dying on his face. 

It’s so fucking ironic. Because he has changed. In fact he has changed so much, he doesn’t recognise himself anymore. He has changed so much that he chased away the man he loves. 

He pulls out the cork, just throws it away carelessly and then presses the bottle against his lips. The whiskey burns its way down to his stomach and heats him up from the inside in seconds. It forces him to focus on his body and that’s good. It’s a relief. 

Maybe this is a weird form of self harming, he thinks hysterically and starts swallowing the alcohol in huge gasps. Just anything to make his brain stop. To make the emotions stop. He’s a man in his forties and he had his fair share of drunkenness and hangovers in his life, he knows it’s just a temporary effect, but right now he doesn’t care. Even if it’s just temporary - he takes it. 

The village is dark and quiet and Robert finds himself walking down to the small bridge where he had so many conversations with Aaron. They talked about Gordon here, they talked about Vic’s rapist here - always offering each other support and a strong shoulder to lean on. Fuck. All the stuff they went through, the highs and the lows - oh God, so many lows - and yet they made it to the other side every time. 

So Robert thought. 

But apparently even the strongest bond between two people is ripping if you just burden it long enough, hard enough.  

Another mouthful of burning whiskey.

Why Aaron though. His Aaron. Robert can’t get his head around it. He throws his head back when he sips the bottle and suddenly he notices the stars. The sky is covered with golden freckles, there are so many of them, endlessly. He slowly brings the bottle down and keeps staring in wonder into the night sky above Emmerdale. In prison he saw barely any stars. The windows were too small and the floodlights around the prison too bright. Robert can’t remember when he just viewed stars, probably when he was a kid with Andy or Vic. 

He wishes someone was here to share this moment with him. He wishes Aaron was here. He wishes he could Aaron kiss here under the light of the stars like a lovestruck teenager. He wishes Aaron would hold him and tell him everything’s gonna be alright. 

He wishes for a shooting star to make a goddamn wish. 

But he isn’t lucky - not tonight, not any more at all as it seems. 

The stars are getting blurry, first with tears and then with alcohol finally flooding his system. 

 

-    -

 

A loud noise is waking Aaron up and he groans into his pillow. It can’t be morning already, he is still too exhausted. A quick glance confirms it's the middle of the night, half past 1. Aaron turns around to Robert only to find his side of the bed empty and cold. The blanket is still like it was when Aaron went to bed earlier. 

Another noise, it sounds like something just shattered. Aaron sits up, a bad feeling settling in his stomach. This isn’t good. From one second to another he is wide awake.  

He quickly leaves the bedroom and is only halfway down the stairs when he spots Robert. His husband is swaying and tripping over his own feet. Robert is undoubtedly drunk, very very drunk. That realisation doesn’t help to ease that heavy feeling in Aaron’s guts and he wonders what has happened since he left Robert to watch his science fiction series and where he got the booze. 

Right at that moment, Robert trips again and is about to fall face first against the coffee table, but Aaron grabs him and helps stabilize him. From this close, Robert looks miserable and when his breath hits Aaron’s face, he jerks his head back. 

That’s whiskey then. Aaron sighs and closes his eyes for a moment, wondering if he’ll manage to get Robert upstairs somehow or if he should just get the covers down here to the couch. He reckons, the latter.

“‘ron,” Robert slurs and sways. “Gett’ff me!”

Robert tries to shove him off and it takes a lot of effort on Aaron’s side to prevent them both from falling over. 

“Rob, c’mon. Let’s get you on the couch,” Aaron tries to reason him through gritted teeth. 

“Said gettoff!” 

This time Robert manages to push him away, but the action causes himself to stumble backwards until his ribs are hitting the mantelpiece. He groans. Aaron stares at him, wide-eyed. 

“What’s wrong? What happened? Why are you so angry at me, Robert?” 

Instead of an answer, he gets a question in return. “Who’s Craig?” 







Chapter Text

“Who’s Craig?” Robert is still shouting and glaring at him.

Aaron feels hot all over suddenly. “What?” How can Robert know about the other man and what has Craig got to do with his husband being pissed like that?! Nothing makes sense. 

“Don't’ play dumb wimme!” Robert points a finger towards him and Aaron can’t remember when he last saw him that furious. “Who’s Craig! Are you fucking ‘im?” Spit is flying from Robert’s mouth and Aaron goes very still. “You’re fucking ‘im, ‘s written all over your face!”

Robert thinks he’s having an affair. Oh God. Oh fuck.

His drunken husband tumbles helplessly against the coffee table, an empty glass falls over and remote controls fly to the floor. Aaron desperately wishes for a remote to press the bloody stop button right here and now.

“You’re fucking ‘im,” Robert slurs once more, this time the tone is quieter, laced with hurt and Aaron’s heart breaks.

Suddenly all the angry energy leaves Robert’s body and his shoulders drop, he’s swaying on the spot, just looking utterly lost and miserable. 

“Rob.”

This time, Robert lets Aaron touch him and he guides him gently to the couch. “C’mon, come here. Sit down. It’s okay. I’ll explain everything, okay?” he murmurs to reassure his husband that everything is going to be alright.  

Robert falls with a groan on the sofa and Aaron carefully helps him to lie down - which is quite a task, since Robert is very drunk and his legs are heavy - before he sits down on the coffee table, sighing and rubbing his face. 

“I’m not fucking Craig,” he says.

Robert scoffs at that, but his eyes are betraying him, because they are gleaming with something like hope.  

“I’ll explain tomorrow. Right now, you need to sleep, alright?” Aaron reaches out and tenderly strokes the blond floppy hair out of Robert’s forehead and the other man closes his eyes at the motion and leans his head into the touch. 

Although he’s pissed and pale and reeks of alcohol, Robert is still the most gorgeous man Aaron ever laid eyes on. His heart is still aching at the thought of Robert assuming he had an affair.  

“We’re good, Robert. I promise. I’ll explain tomorrow. Sleep now. We’re good.” He keeps repeating the same sentences over and over until Robert’s eyelids are getting heavy.  

“Promise?” 

Aaron’s eyes start filling with tears, because Robert sounds so small and it’s too much to handle. “Promise.” He cradles Robert’s cheek and his thumb is caressing his favourite mole next to his ear. 

Robert lets out a little sigh and then he finally closes his eyes and his breathing slows down. Aaron has never seen him fall asleep that quickly, clear proof of how exhausted he must have been. The tears are spilling over now and Aaron just sits there, letting them flow.

“I love you so fucking much, you stupid idiot,” he whispers hoarsely.

After pressing a kiss on Robert’s forehead, he gets up and pulls the blanket over his husband. Then he sniffs a few times and brings up his shoulders to his eyes to wipe off the tears from his face. He grabs a glass, a bottle of water and a packet of painkillers from the kitchen, because Robert is definitely gonna need those in the morning. He places the items next to the couch and after one last look, Aaron goes up to their bedroom again although he knows he won’t find sleep anymore tonight. 

 

-     -

 

Fuck, waking up is a strain. Robert tries to blink his eyes open - emphasis on tries ! His eyelids feel swollen and then slowly, very slowly the poor state of the rest of his body is coming to his awareness. His limbs are heavier than usual and there is a foul taste in his mouth that makes him sick. The worst though is the pounding of his head, a thrumming pain right behind his whole forehead.

He groans and shifts, which only causes his back to scream in agony. 

The movement made him aware of two things: first, he is wearing clothes. Second, he isn’t in his bed. With his eyes still half closed and unfocused, Robert pads around with his hand, half aware that his motion is shaky and uncoordinated, confirming his suspicion: he’s on the couch.

Fuck. He slept on the couch. And he’s fucking hungover. 

There was whiskey, he remembers then. The pub. Charity, Vanessa and Rhona. The bridge. And then everything gets blurry. 

But Robert remembers why there was whiskey in the first place, remembers that all too well, because of course that bit didn’t get swallowed up by the alcohol.

Craig.  

Aaron sleeping with Craig.

And Seb knowing it. Or at least knowing something.  

Now Robert really feels sick. 

“There are pills and a bottle of water next to you.”

Aaron’s voice startles him and Robert struggles to sit up, wincing when his back and his head start protesting. He blinks in the general direction of the kitchen table and finds Aaron sitting there, nursing a cuppa. The fact that he is already fully clothed makes Robert wonder how late it is. A quick glance at his watch tells him it‘s past 10 already and he can‘t remember when he slept in that long - it wasn‘t possible with the tight time schedule in prison, that‘s for sure. 

“Thanks,“ he mutters, wincing at how husky his voice sounds and how sore his throat is. 

He pops two pills at once, hoping their numbing effect will kick in soon, and swallows three quarters of the bottle in one go. Gasping for air, he takes a short break, but the thirst is overwhelming so he gulps down the rest, too. 

“Wanna take a shower and I’ll make you some brekkie?” Aaron offers.

Robert considers it for a moment, not being entirely sure if he can already stomach actual food. His poor belly feels weird and he is on the edge of being sick. On the other hand, Aaron’s idea of breakfast probably means buttered toast and that seems manageable. He knows it would be better if he ate a few bits. 

Eventually he nods and gets up to climb the stairs on shaky legs. At least he can change into fresh clothes and escape Aaron’s gaze. The betrayal still hurts.

Robert tries to wash his bitterness away along with the stench of sweat and alcohol, but unsurprisingly he doesn’t succeed. With a sigh he leans his forehead against the cool tiles and lets the water rush over his tense muscles. 

When he comes down half an hour later, he feels a bit better - more like an actual human again - and breakfast is awaiting him on the table and just like he guessed it’s toast with butter.

“Nothing better than a buttered toast on a hangover morning, right?” Aaron smiles at him and something tugs painfully at Robert’s heart, because even if it’s just something random like toast, it shows Aaron is still the person who knows him like nobody else, the person who gets him. 

“Well, thank God, you didn’t make beans, I’d be already hanging over the toilet now,” Robert opts for a stupid remark to force a smile on his own face. 

Noticing another bottle of water, a glass of orange juice, freshly cut apples and a peeled and sliced orange, he sits down. Aaron made an effort. Robert grabs the juice first and drinks it eagerly, because his body is still craving every drop of liquid it can get. The sugary sweetness is perfect, just what he needed. 

“You asked about Craig…” Aaron says quietly and Robert whips his head around to him so fast it makes his vision swim away, his mouth still full of juice. 

After a moment of silence, he forces it into his stomach although his throat is suddenly too tight for swallowing. The thing is, Robert can’t remember anymore. After he arrived at the bridge, his memories faded out. Did he ask about Craig?! Apparently - if Aaron’s serious face is anything to go by. 

“And did you tell me?” He just has to ask that. 

Aaron takes a seat and snorts, but it’s not a humorous sound. “You were out like a light. I figured, we should talk when you’re sober.”

“Not sober yet,” Robert mutters and honestly, he is nowhere near ready for that conversation now.

His stomach does a painful twist and now he actually feels sick again. God, he’s going to throw up any second.

“I’m not fucking Craig,” Aaron says bluntly and wow, he does not beat around the bush. 

Robert ducks his head, realising that’s the accusation he must have thrown at his husband last night. 

“No?”

Slowly he looks up and his eyes lock on Aaron’s. The scruffy face looks sincere, no shiftiness, no signs of lying whatsoever and hits Robert with an absolute certainty that this is the truth. Aaron isn’t cheating, Aaron isn’t sleeping with someone else. 

“Craig is like a head shorter than me, he’s 60-something and a chain smoker. Not my type.” Aaron smiles. “You know, I’m more into tall, slim and blond.”

Robert’s body is slowly relaxing when the realisation seeps in and he lets out a long breath until his lungs are completely empty. Relief is an understatement. All those horrible images he created in his head during the past few days are crumbling to dust.

Aaron isn’t cheating. 

Whatever it is he’s hiding, he’s not fucking someone else. 

“Sounds hot,” Robert teases, gaining a bit of confidence back. 

Aaron tilts his head and squints his eyes as if he’s thinking hard. “Hmmm. He’s also a bit of an idiot.” He grins and his hamster cheeks are showing. In only a few seconds the atmosphere in the room has completely shifted. 

“But you love him!” Robert’s heart is thumping rapidly against his ribs. 

Aaron’s face turns more serious again and the baby blue eyes get unbelievably soft. It’s that expression that makes Robert’s knees weak. It’s a good thing he’s sitting right now. “I do, actually.” Aaron nods. “I think, more than he knows.” 

They share an intense look. Robert swallows, remembering Aaron asking him ‘you know’ so many times and he always answered ‘I know’, because it was just a simple truth. He knew. He was always so sure of Aaron’s feelings, even when the other man couldn’t form them into words. That connection between them was like a baseline in his life, anchoring him even when he couldn’t tell if Aaron still loved him back when he was in prison. 

As soon as he thought that bond was broken for the past week it was like the rug was pulled from under his feet. 

“He wants to. It’s just… his brain sucks at the moment,” he admits quietly, fiddling around with the toast on his plate and Aaron





nods again, biting his lip. He understands that all too well. There is nothing worse than your mind messing with your feelings because of your mental health. Just like back when Robert was secretly planning their trip to Las Vegas and Aaron was convinced he was sleeping with Rebecca. The thought drove him almost literally crazy. Fuck, he’s been right there where Robert was now. 

If Aaron only would have known sooner, he could have stopped Robert from spiralling downwards before it escalated like last night. 

At least Robert is looking better now. But Aaron isn’t an idiot, of course they still need to talk about what happened last night and about Craig.

“Still wanna know who Craig is?” he asks.

Robert, who just took a bite of his toast, is chewing slowly and thinking before he empties his mouth to answer carefully with a small frown on his forehead: “Do I?”

Aaron chuckles softly, then he shrugs. “I think you do. I hope you do.”

His husband perks up at that. “Why’s that?”

Nagging his lip again, Aaron debates if he just should tell Robert or if he should follow his original plan… well, it’ll be a bit different now, but still…

“How about you finish your brekkie and then I’ll show you?” he smiles, suddenly feeling nervous and excited at the same time. 

“What? You want me to meet Craig?” Robert’s blond eyebrows are flying up to his hairline. 

“Don’t be daft. I’ll show you what the secret is.”

The green eyes go big and Robert lowers the half eaten toast. He tugs the food into the corner of his mouth to answer quickly: “So there is a secret! You’re keeping a secret! I knew it!” Robert bangs his hand on the table. 

“Can’t believe that once I prepare a surprise for you, it sends you on a path of self destruction,” Aaron says half joking, half serious, sighs and reaches across the table to squeeze Robert’s wrist. “I’m really sorry it came this far.”

“It’s okay,” Robert says. “I’m sorry, too. For not trusting you.”

Aaron vows to himself that he’s gonna make it up to Robert. He’s not the best with words, but he’s gonna show him every day how much he loves him. That he can do. And maybe today is a good day to start with it.

 

-     -

 

“What are we doing here? Aaron! Tell me! Tell me now!”

Aaron huffs and rolls his eyes for the upteenth of times. God, he’s never ever gonna prepare a surprise for Robert anymore - his husband is worse than a little child! He won’t stop nagging and demanding of being told what the surprise is, which would be a little counterproductive, since it’s no surprise then anymore!

“You’ll see soon.”

“Are we driving somewhere?” Robert looks around, before he whines: “Aaroooon, c’mon, tell me!” 

Aaron basically waits for him to stomp his foot on the dirty ground like a petulant 4-year-old. He laughs and shakes his head. Robert is ridiculous! And ridiculously cute. Fuck, so cute, it’s adorable. 

“Okay, stay here,” he says to Robert, holding up both hands and waiting for a nod, before he walks to the other side of the garage. He’s so glad it’s Saturday and Cain has closed the business today. 

This is a moment where Aaron truly wants no other villagers around, not even when they’re family - especially when they’re family - this should be a moment just for them. He planned it for months now. “Okay, soo… here’s the thing…” he starts and his nerves are kicking in, his hands are getting clammy and his heart is speeding up. Aaron thought of a little speech he wanted to do right now, but suddenly all the words are erased from his mind and Robert is standing there, a frown is forming on his forehead and he’s clearly waiting for something to happen any time soon.  

“Fuck,” Aaron mutters to himself and just grabs the tarpaulin behind him and pulls.

The fabric swooshes and then there is silence in the small garage. Just deafening silence only interrupted by Aaron’s erratic heartbeat.

“Surprise?” He waves his hands and cringes at his own awkwardness. “It’s err… it was supposed to be a birthday present for you. And… uhm… I’m sorry. It’s not finished yet. Well, obviously.”

He almost doesn’t dare to look at Robert, he’s so nervous. Aaron doesn’t even know why he’s so nervous! Maybe because he planned it for so long and worked for it so hard in the past few weeks. And probably because he fantasized about that moment for years, actually. He wanted it to be a perfect moment. After last night, he isn’t sure if it actually is perfect anymore. 

Eventually he lifts his eyes from the oily floor to Robert’s face, Robert‘s expressionless face. His husband is just standing there and stares. Aaron bites the inside of his cheek so hard he draws blood. 

“Rob-?”

Robert quickly raises his hand, a clear gesture to shut him up and so Aaron closes his mouth again and waits. His beloved freckled face stays neutral, stoney almost, but the eyes… different emotions are showing there, broadcasted on blue-green screens. Shock, surprise, nostalgia. Then Robert takes a step





forward and his legs are like they’re made of jelly. He blinks, because he can’t believe what he’s seeing. He can’t believe it. 

It’s his Porsche. 

His Porsche 944. 

The paintwork has definitely seen better days, there are rusty parts, especially on the wings and the driver’s door, but it is his car! 

How is this even possible?! Robert thought she went into the scrap press a decade ago! 

He just stares, his gaze is travelling over every inch of the body, trying to take every little detail in and it is definitely his Porsche! But this is impossible.

His stupid brain is circling and circling and he can’t take his eyes of his lady. 

He loved that car. He loved her. The sounds she made, the unique smell of the dash board, the softness of the seats. The perfect ride. Memories are flooding his mind now, memories of driving to business meetings, wearing his expensive suits. Memories of driving home to Aaron, anticipation and arousal causing him to put the foot down a little harder. Memories of Taylor Swift booming out of the speakers and him singing along, loud and off and fucking careless. Memories of little Seb in his car seat on the back row, spilling milk and spreading crumbs everywhere, but giggling happily so Robert simply couldn’t get mad at him. 

Good times. Happy times. The best. 

When he was successful and loved and free.  

Fuck. His car! 

He takes another step closer, irrationally scared that she might disappear like a mirage in the desert. It’s hard to get his head around it. 

“Aaron…” he whispers in awe. 

“Craig is a mechanic from Leeds,” Aaron explains, “I found him online, because apparently he is THE expert when it comes to oldtimers. He helped me get the parts I needed to restore her, some of them we even had to order from overseas. Guy’s a damn guru in what he’s doing.”

Craig is a mechanic. They exchanged messages about the Porsche. Things are clicking in Robert’s head when everything is falling into place.

“And when you said you were talking to Cain at the scrapyard the other day…” He takes another step forward, his eyes not leaving the silver car in front of him.

“I was actually talking to Cain.” 

With one last step the Porsche is in his reach and Robert slowly lifts his hand and puts it on the roof. The metal is cold under his palms when he strokes her like a precious pet and he feels the uneven parts of the paintwork. It’s splintered off over the years. It makes his heart ache for his baby, but all in all she’s in a good shape from what he can see - considering she reached the ripe old age of 50 now.

“You kept her…” Finally he tears his eyes away from the car and looks at Aaron.

His husband is biting his lip like he always does when he’s nervous. “Yeah, I couldn’t… So I rented a garage in Hotten.” He shoves his hands in his black skinny jeans. “From time to time I checked on her and started the motor and that, but all in all she didn’t like being abandoned for so long, I guess.” He chuckles and shrugs sheepishly. “Sorry, I worked so many extra hours, everything took a bit longer than I expected and I really wanted to get it done before your birthday…”

Robert feels like the biggest fool on Earth. He thought Aaron gave up on them, instead his husband was working on his car. The car he kept for all those years, along with his books and suits and all his other personal belongings. 

Aaron kept his stuff and waited. 

This is insane! Robert can’t believe it.

And now his husband is standing there, radiating so much nervous energy and almost looking embarrassed - as if he has no clue how big this is, how huge and how fucking much it means to Robert! Jesus Christ, count on Aaron Dingle and his inability of giving himself some credit even when he’s doing the most incredible things. 

Damn, Robert wants to shake him and slap him.

“Err, I know, I kinda ruined it now, but… happy… early birthday? I guess?” Aaron smiles shyly and raises his eyebrows and Robert can’t hold it back anymore. 

His heart leaps in his chest and he just pulls Aaron against body to wrap his arms around him. Fuck. He thought his relationship was as good as over, he thought he lost his soulmate and then Aaron does this! For him! 

Robert glances at the car over Aaron’s shoulder, before he closes his eyes and buries his face in the warm crook where his neck meets his shoulders. He loves that man so much.

“I’m so sorry you thought I had an affair. You were never supposed to find out about Craig before your birthday and I thought I had it all planned so perfectly.” Aaron’s voice is muffled against Robert’s leather jacket, but he continues his rambling anyway. “Robert, I’d never-... not after everything, I wouldn’t do that, I swear.”

The past 24 hours have been such a rollercoaster of emotions. From the lowest to the highest and now Robert is lightheaded and buzzing with joy and love, he feels like he would fly away if Aaron didn’t hold him just as tight. 

It’s not often that one Robert Sugden is lost for words, but now it is such a rare moment and so he just stands there in an embrace with Aaron and listens to the mumbled monologue.

“I wondered if I should tell you about the car, but I wasn’t sure if I could actually fix her, because I had to renew so many parts and I wanted to spare you the disappointment if she was beyond fixable and then again I really wanted to see your face when you’d see her shining like new-”

“Aaron?”

“Hm?”

“Best early birthday ever.” Robert kisses the skin right underneath Aaron’s scruff and feels him shivering in his arms. 

Thank you, he thinks, for doing this, for being here, for believing in me when you told me about the Haulage opportunity, for helping me reconnect with Seb. For everything.

Aaron pulls back and Robert almost wants to let out a whine in protest, but then strong, calloused hands are holding his face softly and thumbs are stroking across his cheeks. Only then Robert feels a wetness there and he realises he must be crying. 

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Aaron let’s out a small breath and then his whole face lights up with his wonderful bright smile and his blue eyes are sparkling.

How Robert ever could have gotten so lucky to call this man his, he’ll never know.

“Soooo,” Aaron drags the word and grabs into the pocket of his jeans. “Wanna go for a spin?” 

He holds his hand up and the Porsche key is dangling on a short silver chain. 

“Is she ready for that?” Robert asks and licks his lips, eyes flicking to the car.

He hasn’t been driving since 2019 - so far either Aaron or Jimmy have been driving him around - but it’s probably like riding a bike. You’ll never unlearn. 

“She's ready when you are,” Aaron says if he read Robert’s mind.  

For another second he stares at the key, contemplating if he’s sober enough to get on the driver’s seat, but then he decides, fuck it. He’s snatching it from Aaron’s fingers and his husband quickly makes his way to open the doors of the garage. 

Sliding on the seat is like coming home. After all those years the smell inside is still the same. That unmistakable scent of oil, leather, but also dust and something else that Robert never could place. He gently strokes over the steering wheel and takes the interior in. Time didn’t do much harm on the inside, the Porsche looks almost exactly like back then.

When he turns the key and the engine starts roaring, the hairs on his arms are standing up and he shivers. Such a beautiful sound.

Very, very carefully he steers the car out of Dingle & Dingle, before he waits for Aaron to lock up the garage again and get into the Porsche. 

It’s weird, driving again after so many years, but weird in a good way. It really is like riding a bike - after only a few minutes, Robert allows himself to relax and then he fully enjoys the drive. The small country roads around Emmerdale are mostly empty, since it’s the weekend and around lunchtime.

He glances to his husband and sees him smiling. Robert reaches over to rest his palm on Aaron’s thigh. Grabbing and squeezing his hand, Aaron’s head rolls to the side and the blue eyes are shining with pride and happiness.

“Good?” he asks. 

Good might be the understatement of the century, actually. Because Robert feels amazing!

The sound of his car, the fields flying by, the man beside him - this is freedom. He is free. He is independent, he can do whatever he wants, go wherever he wants, make his own choices. The emotions are almost crushing him, they are that intense, but at the same time it’s like a stone was lifted from his chest and he can finally breathe!

Aaron is suddenly moving on the passenger's seat and when Robert casts him a quick look, he sees a phone pointing in his direction.

“What are you doing?” 

“Just taking a pic for Seb,” Aaron explains and bites his lip. “I told him about the car and he was so thrilled about the whole thing, I had to keep him updated with pictures and stuff. He’s really into cars, you know?”

That would explain Seb’s whatsapp. 

Warmth spreads in Robert’s chest, knowing that his son got excited over his Porsche. They are sharing their love for pineapple pizza, superheroes and cars now as well. A knowledge that will make their bonding a lot easier. Robert wonders what else he might have in common with Seb, there is still so much he wants to know about the boy. 

“Do you think he wants to become a mechanic?” he muses and leaves the additional ‘like his dads’ unsaid. 

Of course his stupid brain already imagines Seb in overalls working for Cain and living with Aaron and him again. Damn, Robert wants him back in their lives so much. 

“Maybe? Would be nice, wouldn’t it?” Aaron smiles, while he 





awkwardly types out a whatsapp with his left hand - since his right hand is still holding Robert and doesn’t intend on stopping doing so any time soon.

to Seb

Guess who ruined myxsurprise

He would lie if he hadn’t thought about it. About Seb choosing the same career like Robert and he did and becoming a mechanic. It was actually unexpected to see the boy so interested in engines, carbs and exhaust pipes and even when Aaron worried if he would bore him, Seb didn’t stop asking questions. 

So, perhaps, if Seb wanted to work as a mechanic, Aaron could pull some strings and ask Cain, couldn’t he? Cain would treat him right and give him fair hours and a fair wage and if Seb wasn’t interested in commuting between Emmerdale and Liverpool on a daily basis, he could live in the Mill, right? 

Aaron knows his brain is just quick to build castles in the air, but he can’t help it. Having Seb back home would be amazing.

His phone starts buzzing staccato.

Seb

omg what did he say

 

Seb

tell me

 

Seb

did he cry

 

Seb

I totally would have cried

Aaron snickers and Robert twists his head to get a quick look at the display.

“Did he answer?”

“Yeah. He asked if you cried.” Aaron grins like a loon when he writes his reply to the boy. 

“Of course you’re telling him that I was cool like a cucumber and I did not, absolutely not, cry. In the slightest.” Robert gives him a stern look.

“Sure thing,” Aaron nods and makes a small saluting gesture with the phone against his forehead.

to Seb

he totally did! call you later

 

Seb

:-) :-) knew it! enjoy your ride. tell him I said hi

“He says hi,” he passes the message on and watches Robert smiling and shifting on his seat. 

Seb cares about his dad, that much is clear and Aaron wants nothing more than them getting to know each other again. Only a year ago that was nothing but a fantasy, a total utopia, but now fucking fate seems to be finally on their side. Against all odds, Seb, Robert and him had the chance to rebuild their relationship.

Robert suddenly slows the car down and pulls over. Surfacing from his thoughts, Aaron’s first impulse is wondering if there’s something wrong with the engine, but then he recognizes where they are and huffs out a little laugh.

It’s their lay-by, because of course it is.

With sparkling eyes and a huge grin on his face, Robert switches the car off and unfastens his seatbelt, before he turns around to fully face Aaron.

He can’t remember when he saw Robert that happy for the last time. And God, do those laughter lines look ever so sexy around his green eyes and Aaron downright melts inside and he just loves that man so madly-

“Wait!” he straightens his back when he realizes that he forgot something! A part of the surprise!

Robert tilts his head and frowns. “What’s up?”

“Yeah, I-” Aaron blushes, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed again. “There is another surprise.”

He reaches out and sends a silent quick prayer to whoever is willing to listen, since he fixed that part yesterday and only did one quick test run to see if it’s fully functioning.

Aaron switches the cassette player on.

 

I′ll be your dream, I'll be your wish, I′ll be your fantasy.

I'll be your hope, I'll be your love, be everything that you need.

I love you more with every breath, truly madly deeply do.

I will be strong, I will be faithful ′cause I′m counting on a new beginning.

A reason for living. A deeper meaning. Yeah.

 

Savage Garden’s Truly Madly Deeply is blaring out of the little speakers and Robert’s eyes widen when his gaze flicks between Aaron’s face and the black Panasonic radio. 

“Can’t believe I’m listening to an actual cassette in 2031…” Robert says in awe. Then he hums. “Haven’t heard this song in… like forever. What was the band called again?”

“Savage Garden.”

It was quite difficult to fix the cartridge drive as there are barely any spares available for the old technology, but Craig found some weirdo in Germany who obviously has a soft spot for cassette players and hoards them like Smaug does his gold. 

“Savage Garden, right! Love that song.”

Aaron knows that Robert loves that song.

There is a moment, burnt in his memory forever. It was shortly after Nathalie agreed to be their surrogate and while Robert was taking a shower, Aaron stood in the doorframe to Seb’s room, basking in the morning light. He imagined adding a little crib next to Seb’s Lightning McQueen-bed. He imagined painting the walls yellow and yes, deep deep down he imagined unicorn plushies, a mobile with twinkling butterflies and a pink blanket. And just when he stood there, daydreaming about their princess, he heard it: Robert singing under the spray, loud and proud, the lyrics of Truly Madly Deeply. It made Aaron laugh because it sounded terrible and it was basically an insult to his poor ears, but somehow it was that little detail that made this moment perfect. Just perfect. 

Whereas so much other stuff faded with the years, that morning in the Mill got stuck in his head and his heart.

It’s like a romantic reminiscence to the madness of 2014 when Robert suddenly leans over and kisses him just like that. Without preamble and hard, almost desperate. Their teeth are clicking and noses bumping, but Aaron doesn’t mind at all, he kisses back with the same passion. 

Kissing Robert will never lose its intensity. Their lips fit against each other like they were simply created for this purpose. Everything else fades away, it’s just them. Aaron shifts on his seat to get a better angle and grabs the leather jacket to pull Robert closer. A warm hand caresses his neck and jaw, a fingertip plays with his earlobe.

All his blood runs south and a vivid heat is flushing Aaron’s body. God, he wants Robert so much, he wants those hands with their nimble fingers all over him, wants that mouth sucking on his nipples and that dick in his arse. He wants . A low moan escapes his throat involuntarily. 

But then he thinks back to the other night, when Robert clearly wasn’t ready for anything sexual and so Aaron pulls back, gasping for air.

“We should 






slow down…” 

The icy blue colour of the eyes is barely visible anymore, Aaron’s pupils are blown and clouded with lust - signalling exactly the opposite of his own words. 

Robert senses that Aaron is trying to hold it back for his sake and that’s just one of the many many things why he loves that man so much. 

Letting out a little laugh, Robert stares down at his own crotch, at the very visible bulge that’s showing there. He’s hard, he’s so fucking hard it hurts being trapped in his jeans. 

“Don’t wanna slow down,” he breathes and looks back at Aaron.

His husband swallows and quickly glances down, before he licks his lips. 

“Can I-” Aaron mutters, then he puts his hand on Robert’s thigh and slowly travels upwards, giving him time to say stop.

Stopping is the last thing on Robert’s mind though. He shivers with anticipation, spreads his legs a little and pushes his hips up. The jeans rubs over his cock and fuck. God, yes. And Aaron’s fingers are coming closer and closer and they’re almost there and please!

Feeling like a horny teenager again, he can’t tear his eyes away when finally, fucking finally Aaron is rubbing his palm over his bulge. Robert throws his head back and bites his lip, feeling close to cumming already. 

That sensation of another person touching him there is overwhelming, hot daggers are shooting into his groin and he presses his cock against the hand, needing more friction. 

Somewhere he hears Aaron moaning like a dying man, like if he’s the one who’s the receiving end and somewhere he realises that he should probably touch him back, but - for the life of him - he cannot control his body right now!

Out of the corners of his eyes, he sees Aaron’s arm moving quickly and the hand is working his crotch. Robert’s head rolls to the side and then Aaron’s mouth is crashing on his, swallowing up his ragged breathing. 

Aaron.

Oh fuck.

Oh God.

He’s gonna cum in his pants.

He’s so close. He’s on fire. Heat is coiling. 

Fuck.

Please.

Aaron.

There is knock and gone is the mouth and the hand and Robert whines in protest. He blinks his eyes open, but his lust clouded brain only provides a dizzy picture and it takes a moment until he’s surfacing back to reality.

A police officer is glaring at them, while Aaron quickly rolls the window down. Robert’s first impulse is to hide his boner, but given the show the copper must have gotten a moment before, it seems pretty pointless. 

“Yes? Officer?” Aaron asks as if nothing at all just happened in this car. He’s wheezing like a steam train though, bless him.

The bloke, a guy in his late 50s, gives them a stern look, pointedly avoiding everything below their chests.

“How’s it going, lads?” he asks, leaning against the doorframe.

Well, a few seconds ago it was going awesome, Robert thinks and says: “Good, yeah.”  Aaron nods beside him. “Except, you know, for him, giving me a hard time here.” He nods in Aaron’s direction, saying the words without meaning to.

His husband rolls his eyes so hard, his head is moving with it and Robert bites back a laugh.

Although this is the least situation where he should rediscover his snarky Sugden-smugness, Robert can’t help but feel giddy with joy, because damn! He’s alive again! It’s the best feeling ever. 

The copper hums thoughtfully, obviously not being able to appreciate a brilliant joke. “Listen. You better take that business of yours elsewhere or you’re gonna have to come with me to the station for indecent behaviour.”

“Sure thing, officer!” Aaron is quick to say and shoots Robert a little warning glare to keep his mouth shut.

He mimics a little zip motion at his lips which intensifies Aaron’s cute grumpy look and the cop lingers for another second, before he straightens his back. “Well, then. Have a good day.”

Robert salutes, only to get his hand slapped away by Aaron, but the policeman hasn’t seen it anyway because he is already on the way to his car. What a lazy arse, Robert thinks, probably only waiting for his shift to end - not that he‘s complaining. 

As soon as the car drives off, Aaron lets out a long breath, turns to Robert and they stare at each other. 

Aaron’s mouth is twitching first. Then they start laughing at the same time. It erupts from Robert’s chest with a loud bark and he is laughing so hard, his belly hurts and he leans forward until his head bumps against the steering wheel. 

Fucking hell, he’s 45 and just got cockblocked by a copper on a Yorkshire country road. 

All in all, Robert feels bloody amazing. 

 

-     -

 

It’s almost tea time when they get back to the garage. Aaron opens the doors for Robert to drive through and he carefully manoeuvres the Porsche into the little space between the messy chaos of Cain’s tools and spares. He turns the engine off and takes another moment to simply sit there to appreciate the car. 

Aaron still wants to refurbish the dash with some polish and then give her a new coating as finish. But seriously, she looks fantastic already.

Albeit spending the past few hours in his Porsche, Robert still can’t quite believe Aaron kept her all those years and gave her a makeover. He doubts that the other man fully understands how much this means to him. 

The click of the door echoes loud in the small garage and then Aaron is waiting for him with a smile on his face.

“You okay?”

Robert folds himself out of the car - the Porsche never has been ideal for his size, but he’d rather bite off his tongue than drive something horrid and insulting like an SUV. 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just wanted to thank you.” Robert takes Aaron’s face in his hand and looks into his favourite blue eyes. “Thank you,” he whispers and gently takes Aaron’s lips. 

His husband is smiling and kissing him back quickly, arms are sneaking around Robert’s waist and shoulder to pull him in. That spark of lust they ignited earlier is still gleaming inside of him, flaring up when Aaron opens his lips and invites his tongue to slip in. 

Robert steps closer, until they are flush from head to toe and licks into Aaron’s mouth. He loves how Aaron goes with it, lets him lead. Hands are wandering down over his leather jacket until they reach the seam of his jeans, but they don’t stop there. Aaron grabs his arse and squeezes so hard, Robert jerks his hips forward.

Their dicks are rubbing against each other. 

He pulls his head back and looks at Aaron, wanting to see . Robert rolls his hips again, slower now, more controlled. Aaron’s breath hitches and his eyelids are fluttering. He looks absolutely beautiful. 

They stay like this, faces only inches apart, sharing the same breath and keeping eye contact while they both are grinding and humping each other. It’s intense and intimate. 

A few weeks ago, Robert didn’t feel any of it and it was such a terrifying experience, because it had never happened to him before. And it happening with Aaron was like a betrayal of his own body. 

Now though, he feels it. He’s burning with desire, his head dizzy with lust. 

Aaron is just as hard as he is, just as breathless and blown away from the arousal. 

“I want you,” Aaron gasps with his sinful raspy voice and Robert nods.

“I haven’t got anything with me,” he admits. 

It wasn’t like he was out much for shopping since he got out and he definitely didn’t buy lube at David’s. Aaron pulls out his wallet and produces a small packet of lube.

“Came prepared, I see…” Robert smirks, which earns him a look.

“Are you complaining?” Aaron raises his eyebrows. “I bought these when I knew you’d come home. Can’t blame me for planning ahead.”

“No complaints here,” Robert laughs and kisses Aaron hungrily and demandingly. 

“How do you wanna do it?” Aaron’s hot breath tickles in his face in the best imaginable way.

Ever since he’s been released, everything is a struggle to get back as much control over his life as possible. Prison did not only take away his freedom, it also took away his choices, his decisions, his preferences. The wake up time, the food he ate, how he spent his day and even when he could take a fucking shower - everything was set by others.

And now Aaron lets him decide. Like he’s sensing that Robert needs that, that feeling of being in control.  

“Can I top?”

Aaron answers with a smile and presses the foil against Robert’s chest. “Just go slow. It’s been a while.”

Robert swallows, being reminded that he isn’t the only one who’s touch starved. It’s just as intense for Aaron as it is for him. 

He does go slow, uses a bit of the lube to coat his fingers and then he’s opening Aaron up. They never stop kissing. Aaron’s jeans are somewhere around his ankles and he’s basically on his tiptoes, while Robert is reaching around him and sliding his fingers in and out of his man. God, Aaron feels like heaven, so warm and silky and fucking tight, it’s driving Robert insane. 

Aaron shudders in his arms when he rubs over his sweet spot and he repeats doing that until he gets the most wonderful





moan out of him. All he can do is hold onto Robert and feel. It’s almost too good, too much to handle it. Aaron lost count how many fingers are in him by now and he rocks his hips, tries to get them even deeper inside.

Nobody has touched him there for 12 years, nobody made him burn like that for 12 years. It’s Robert, only Robert and he never wants this to end and at the same time he can’t bear it anymore and he needs more! 

“Rob. Robert. I’m ready.” 

He gulps air in his aching lungs, because there’s no oxygen left after their kissing. 

Countless times he imagined having sex with Robert again, he dreamt of all sorts of scenarios, mostly in bed or on the couch, always slow and sweet and romantic. 

Reality is nothing like he thought it would be. They are standing, still half clothed, Aaron leaning against the side of the Porsche, resting his arms on the top and Robert behind him, holding him, clawing at Aaron’s jumper right above his chest.

It is slow though, when Robert finally pushes inside him. 

Being filled is a feeling that’s hard to describe. That sweet sting he missed so much and then that fullness. Robert is erasing inch by inch that emptiness Aaron carried around for too long. Suddenly tears are swimming his eyes and he sobs, his knees are shaking. 

“Rob. Oh fuck.” He’s glad that Robert is holding him, because otherwise his legs would have given away by now.

When Robert bottoms out, he stills and breathes heavily. Aaron leans back and grabs his hand and squeezes, while the sting is slowly fading into pure pleasure. Then Robert starts rolling his hips. It knocks the air out of Aaron’s lungs when he’s pushing back in.


Finally reunited on all possible levels. Finally feeling whole again. He’s got Robert back, for good this time. Aaron will make sure of it. 

Robert hits Aaron’s prostate over and over, a stifled noise escapes his throat. His legs start shaking helplessly and his body feels like burning from the inside. 

“Not gonna last. Fuck,” he moans.

Damn, he’s so close already. Oh God, it’s so good, so perfect. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Cain’s ratty garage, it doesn’t matter if it stinks of oil and tires. It’s perfect. 

Sounds of Aaron’s pleasure and skin slapping on skin are filling the room - but something’s missing, his foggy brain slowly realises. 

Robert is pressing his mouth against his neck, breathing harshly. 

“Are you holding back?” Aaron wheezes out and twists his head to get a look at the man behind him.

And sure his suspicion is confirmed - Robert’s jaw is clenching so hard, Aaron can see the muscles twitching. He reaches back and puts his hand on Robert’s cheek to pull his face in his direction. 

“Don’t hold back.” He kisses him, slightly sloppy and with too much spit, but Aaron doesn’t care at this point. “Let go. Rob.





 

Let go.”

Something inside Robert’s belly twists and he stares wide-eyed into his husband’s face. He wasn’t even aware he was holding back. It’s just that you usually have to keep it quiet in prison when you quickly beat one off after the lights went out. Robert is so used to suppressing all noises that only when Aaron asked him to let go, he realised how sore and painful his jaw already is. He basically has to force his mouth to open and as soon as Robert’s lips part, a little whimper escapes him. 

Aaron smiles and pushes his arse back. “Yes. Yes! Wanna hear ya. So hot. Let go.”

They pick up speed again, after things slowed down a bit, and Aaron is clenching so fucking tight around Robert’s cock, it’s maddening! 

He tries to let go, but it‘s difficult after such a long time. Seeing Aaron coming undone and feeling him falling apart in his arms, helps though. It‘s such a bloody hot thing to witness.

“Fuck. So good. ‘M close. Ah, fuck,“ Aaron hisses. “Missed you so much. Rob!“

Robert can‘t hold back his own moan any longer. It‘s a deep grunt, almost animalistic and breaks a dam inside him. His body fully takes over, shutting his mind finally up, and Robert lets go.

His eyes are rolling back in his skull when the pleasure is taking over all too quickly. The thrusts are getting uncoordinated now and his orgasm is approaching like a wave rolling towards the shore. It gets bigger and bigger and it’s almost at its breaking point, but not quite yet, just a little bit more-

He‘s not sure, but Robert thinks he screams when he comes. The dark garage dissolves in red heat and if he wouldn‘t cling onto the man in front of him, he‘d probably fall on his arse. His body goes slack and he has to rest his hot forehead against Aaron‘s shoulders. The aftershocks keep him trembling, especially when Aaron clenches once more around him.

There is a high pitched mewl and then the scent of cum is mixing into the smell of the Garage. 

Aaron sags against the Porsche and pulls a helplessly stumbling Robert with him. The motion causes his cock to slide out of Aaron and makes them both hiss at the sudden loss of feeling each other. 

Then they are standing there, maybe 2 minutes, maybe 10, trying to get their breathing back under control. 

Robert's hands and lips are tickling and tingling, it‘s like pins and needles. He never came that hard in his life. 

The bone-deep satisfaction makes his body heavy like a stone and light like a feather floating in air at the same time. 

Out of all the sex he had had with Aaron - and Lord knows there was loads and loads of sex - this is ranking on top of the list. Probably on the same step as their first time, because it held a similar intensity of emotions. 

“Can‘t believe we just had another first time in the garage,“ he mumbles against Aaron shoulder when the realisation strikes. 

His husband chuckles. “And an almost first time at the lay-by,“ he adds.

Robert smiles like a loon and hums. Neither of them is willing to move. 

It‘s Aaron who breaks their afterglow with a simple statement: “Your cum is running down my leg.“

Aaron Dingle, ever the romantic. Robert sighs and snorts.

They clean themselves up with paper towels from the dispenser next to the sink and then Aaron walks straight over to the messy office.

“What are you doing?“

“Booting up Cain‘s computer to delete the CCTV footage, of course.“

Robert nearly trips over his feet. “The- W-What?!“

“Long story. C‘mon, help me with the password. You‘re the mind, I‘m the hands,“ Aaron says and makes jazz hands like an idiot. 

Robert rolls his eyes. 

It turns out Cain‘s password is MOIRA in combination with Isaac‘s birthday and they‘re hacking it at the third attempt. Jesus, Robert shakes his head in disbelief, good ol‘ Cain is getting really old or he just doesn’t give a fuck.

And while Aaron is deleting all possible compromising files, Robert stands back and can‘t help thinking that this is - despite the disastrous start and the sheer absurdity of the moment - one of the best days of his life.  

 

-     -

 

He wakes up and that stone on his chest is back. That heavy feeling in his stomach is back. The anxiety is back. Everything is back. As if yesterday simply didn’t happen.

Lying there and staring at the white ceiling, Robert feels tears running down his temples, not being able to stop them. He’s trapped in his own mind again, thoughts are running and circling and spiralling and he has no idea how much time passes, but when Aaron stirs next to him, the pillow underneath him is soaking wet, his skin feels raw from the salt and his lips are dry.

“Robert?” Aaron sounds drowsy, but the concern is clearly audible. “What’s up? What’s wrong?”

More movement next to him and then Aaron’s face appears in Robert’s vision line. He’s sporting a massive, curly bed hair, there are pillow lines on his cheek and his eyelids are still swollen. But those blue eyes itself are awake and alert and a hand is gently wiping away Robert’s tears. 

“Are you in pain? Did something happen?”

Yes and yes. He is in pain, but it’s a pain without a physical cause, it’s that fucking emotional pain again, the one that can’t be treated with Ibuprofen. And yes, something did happen: Robert realised that he is an idiot. A massive, massive idiot. 

For thinking he might have left all the shit behind him.

“I just thought-...” He swallows, tries to get his shaky voice under control. “I felt so good yesterday. Like really good and I thought…”

Aaron’s worried expression softens and he sighs. “And today is a bad day again?” he puts the pieces together. “Come here.”

Robert is being pulled onto his side and on Aaron’s perfectly shaped bare chest. His husband wraps his arms around him and holds him like that for a while. The heartbeat and the skin contact are soothing, but Robert’s persistent mind still won’t shut up. What the hell happened over night? Why is his stupid brain making him miserable today again? Is the universe mocking him? It’s not fair. It fucking isn’t.

“I just wanna be normal again!” He hates being like this so much.

“I know.” Aaron is pressing his lips on Robert’s head. “But everything you feel is normal.” Robert wants to huff in protest, but Aaron quickly goes on: “It is, Robert. It’s okay to struggle. You went through a lot. It’s normal to have a bad day. I still have them, sometimes. And when it happens, we get through it together. And tomorrow is a new day and whether it‘s a good or a bad one, we face it together.“

A hand is gently stroking up and down his arm and Robert focuses on the touch, feeling the calluses, silent witnesses of Aaron’s hard work. Aaron is still the strongest person he knows. Because he went through a lot as well, he struggled even harder and he came out on the other side. 

“How did you get through it?” he asks.

Aaron snorts and his hold around Robert tightens. “Because of you. You idiot.” Then there is a moment of silence and then Aaron adds more quieter: “I just hope I can help you like you did me.”

Robert hears the insecurity in his voice, the slight wavering, the tiny unspoken question mark at the end. He doesn’t even think about it, because he knows the answer deep down. 

He knows.

“You’re already doing it.”

Chapter Text

Aaron is staring at the monstrosity in front of him, a deep frown on his forehead, a glass of champagne in his hand. 

People are talking animatedly around him and electronic music is playing. There is this constant awareness that he doesn‘t fit in, in those groups of mostly young, urban London hipsters with their huge glasses, eccentric makeup and colourful clothes. The champagne is giving him heartburn and it tastes nothing but bitter - Aaron never understood the appeal of bubbly, he‘d rather sip a beer now if he‘s honest. 

He smiles anyway, because despite feeling a bit alien, he is bursting with pride. 

It‘s the opening of Liv‘s exhibition and she did an amazing job. 

Her impressive scrap sculptures express uniqueness and appear massive and fragile at the same time. At least this is what the little flyer guide says that Aaron read several times now. Oh dammit, he will never be one for the fine arts and he might not always get the meta levels of Liv’s works, but he has taste and her stuff is cool. It looks amazing. 

He wanders around through the large room with its white walls and floor and interesting light design until he spots his little sister giving an interview to a very artsy looking bloke who is filming it with his iPhone. 

God, Aaron is so proud. 

The little girl with the chubby cheeks and the pony tail - the little girl who nicked his money and kicked Robert in his balls - is in the big city, working as an actual, respected artist.

As soon as she‘s finished she comes over to him and hugs him.

“And?“ she asks with glowing eyes. 

“Well, I‘d say we‘re both successful in the scrap business,“ he teases her and she laughs. “No, seriously though. This is awesome.“ Aaron throws his arm around her shoulder and together they take the whole setting in. “I already took loads of pics and videos for the family in Emmerdale and Seb.“

“Yeah?“

“Course. They all are so proud of you. And Robert and me, of course.“

She smiles. “Speaking of your other half, where is he?“

“Last time I saw him he was discussing the ecological aspects of your art with a couple over there,“ Aaron tells her and points to the biggest sculpture in the middle of the gallery.

“So, it‘s a good day then?“ 

Aaron knows that Liv didn‘t ask about their short trip to London in general. 

Right at that moment he spots Robert. He‘s still talking to that young woman and her partner, gesturing with his hands and smiling brightly. His cheeks are slightly rosy and he‘s wearing one of his best suits, the maroon one, and he looks absolutely handsome. Somehow Robert got even hotter with age, it‘s actually unfair. 

“It is a good day,“ he confirms and squeezes her shoulder, his eyes never leaving Robert.

Liv nods. “Go on then. Go over to him. I‘ll speak to you later, yeah?“

He gives her a kiss on her temple before he releases Liv and when he walks away, there are already two young women waiting to talk to her. 

“… it is kinda impressive how she picks up a random piece of metal, no matter in what shape it is, and sees something in it. The vision of creating something new,“ Robert says and then he sees Aaron approaching. 

His green-blue eyes are sparkling and his smile gets even wider and hell, yeah. It is a good day. It is a fantastic day. And Aaron‘s heart leaps and warmth is spreading inside him. 

“Aaron!“ Robert holds out his arm to put his hand on Aaron‘s lower back as soon as he‘s in reach. “This are Clara and Juste. Clara, Juste, this is the brother of the artist, Aaron, my husband.“

For a second, Aaron freezes before he shakes hands with the couple. 

Robert called him husband.

And sure, Aaron labels Robert as his husband all the time - but only in his head. He didn‘t know that Robert is apparently doing the same?

Especially since they aren‘t officially married anymore. 

“We were talking about this piece,“ Clara informs him and points towards the nearly four feet gigantic sculpture.

It‘s two people, two men, facing each other, their arms are entangled in a way that you can‘t really tell where one ends and the other starts.

The title of the art is ‘Strong‘ and Aaron heard other people whispering that it would be two fighters, maybe judoists or wrestlers. They probably haven’t read the small text on the pedestal that says:

 

Some fighters don‘t use fists

Some heroes don‘t wear capes

 

And while Aaron may not get the meta levels of all the artworks, he definitely gets this one. 

It doesn‘t show fighters. It shows lovers.

And Aaron gets it, because it‘s them. Liv made him and Robert her centerpiece. 

The small talk continues for another few minutes and then Clara and Juste bid their goodbye and walk off to the next sculpture.

Aaron turns to Robert and opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, Robert starts rambling. “Fuck, I‘m sorry. Look, I didn‘t mean to… I noticed that you tensed up when I told them you‘re my husband and I‘m so sorry. If I did hurt you, I didn‘t do it intentionally, it‘s just-”

“Robert.“

“Yes?“

“Shut up,“ Aaron smiles and Robert closes his mouth. He still looks nervous though. “You are my husband, Robert. You always were.“

Aaron leans in for a kiss. His stupid no PDA rule be damned, they are in London and he had champagne. 

When he pulls back, Robert‘s lips slowly turn into a smile. “Hey, was that a poor attempt at proposing?“

“I thought it was actually decent,“ Aaron objects and butterflies are flapping their wings in his belly.

Being so close, he can see all the freckles speckled across Robert‘s beautiful face. 

“I‘d have done it with a big gesture. Where are the fireworks? Why aren‘t we in the London Eye? Or on the Tower Bridge?“ Robert teases him. 

Aaron does his infamous mouth shrug-slash-upside down smirk and nods slowly. 

“Is that a poor attempt in saying yes?“ he asks back. 

“Well, you know what they say…“ Robert starts swaying. “Third time‘s a charm.“

Today is a good day.