Aaron, on some level, knew he’d been under the same bonnet of the same car for the better part of an hour, but he felt…safe in there somehow.
He didn’t feel the wakeup call until Ross’ bullet-shaped head suddenly appeared beside him, shouting, “BOO!”
"Flippin’ hell!" Aaron shouted, pulling away and picking up a rag to wipe his greasy hands off with. "You’re lucky I didn’t take our heads off!"
"Think you’d look better without yours," Ross snapped back as he finished the work Aaron had zoned out of finishing.
Aaron rolled his eyes, preferring to focus on Ross’ backside rather than his usual blokey banter.
"And stop looking at my arse," he added, swaying said arse side-to-side for emphasis.
"Prefer it to your face," Aaron replied as he wiped his hands until they were practically red, "Talks less shit."
Ross slammed the lid shut, casually wiping his hands on his coveralls, the way Aaron used to do. Now, he couldn’t stop rubbing them with the cloth. It was something to focus on, pain to replace pain…
"Wait ‘til I’ve had my curry," he joked, wagging his eyebrows for emphasis.
Aaron didn’t have time for a retort before Ross looked down at his numbed hands. He took the cloth from Aaron, holding Aaron’s wrists in a tight grip Aaron couldn’t break free no matter how hard he tried.
"Don’t put your hands…"
"You’re sick in the head."
Aaron lunged for him, but Ross was too quick, turning him around, wrapping one arm around Aaron’s arms, the other around Aaron’s throat.
"Finn told me he was worried ‘bout you. Way you treated him, I don’t know why he gives a fuck, but he’s a nice fella, not like you and me. So for him, I think you need to listen."
Aaron couldn’t break free no matter how much he squirmed or kicked.
"Half this village wipes your arse, and it drives me up the wall. But they’re never around when you need ‘em, are they?”
Aaron tried to grunt a response. That wasn’t true, it wasn’t fair. They were busy, with jobs and kids and grieving over a death he caused. He put ‘em through so much already, he couldn’t ask for more.
"I’m not your mate, I’m not your brother, I’m not your bum chum…"
"Fuck off," Aaron forced out.
"With pleasure," Ross said, the smirk practically burned into the back of Aaron’s neck. "But you’re gonna listen. I seen you around this place, barely able to walk, barely able to look anybody in the eye. I’ve seen the bloody rags…"
Aaron’s eyes filled with tears and he tried one last time to get free. It took all the strength out of him, and he slumped into Ross’ arms. To his surprise, Ross didn’t push him away, instead holding him up.
"You need help. Dunno if it’s a headshrinker or a ten-inch Tommy who can make all your dreams come true, or your mam, or bloody Supercain, or that cueball you call a dad, or that mutt brother-cousin o’mine you got the hearteyes for, but it’s somebody."
He turned Aaron around, holding Aaron’s head in his hands.
"I know you’re not gonna tell me, ‘cos I don’t hold your hand and tuck you in at night…or ‘cos I’d blackmail you if it’s juicy enough…"
That brought a tired laugh out of Aaron.
"But whatever it is, you need to tell somebody. Otherwise…"
He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
Another minute of silence passed, neither man knowing what to say. If they were friends, or sworn enemies, it would be easier for Aaron, but instead he was torn between telling Ross everything and kicking himself for it, or shoving him away and warning him off for good.
Dan, strolling back from his lunch break with Kerry, solved the problem for him.
"Did I miss some bonding time?"
Aaron, both relieved and annoyed at the interruption, gave in to childishness, and pushed his mouth against Ross’ to get a reaction out of Dan.
Instead, Dan just scratched his chin.
"Does this mean I get another break?"
Ross, laughing as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, shook his head.
"Nah. This prat just can’t get enough of my family."
Dan shrugged and went over to the van he’d been working on earlier in the day.
"You try that again," he whispered as he jabbed a sharp finger in Aaron’s chest, "and I’ll eat a fistful o’garlic for breakfast."
Aaron laughed. “Thought you already did…”
Ross flipped him off.
Before they could get back to work, Aaron turned Ross around one last time, his hand firm on Ross’ shoulder.
"This is the first and last time I’ll ever say this to you, but…thanks."
To his surprise, Ross replied with sincerity, not sarcasm.
"If you wanna thank me, then do what I said, alright?"
Aaron swallowed, looking down at his red, raw hands.
If only he could.