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But if you'll really hold me tight

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Robert looked round the room as he dumped his bag on the bed. It did look comfortable he supposed, but that didn’t mask the fact that he didn’t want to be here. The room itself was nothing special, nothing like most people would expect in the home of the British Prime Minister he had no doubt. It was bigger than he expected, no doubt thanks to the Blairs and their renovations back in the day. It wasn’t his home though. He had a flat, a perfectly nice flat in the middle of the city that suited him and yet here he was.

”You’re here then.” He turns to see his Dad standing in the doorway, suit as immaculate as always. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen him look casual, even when his Mum used to force him into a sweater or polo shirt during the summer.

“You didn’t give me much choice.” He’d expected the call, as soon as he’d woken up to a phone full of news notifications. He supposes it’s not every day the son of one of the most popular Prime Ministers in recent history is caught red handed with the sister of his beloved wife. It didn’t matter that in private their marriage had been over for months, that Chrissie was already with someone else. No, he was the one at fault, all manner of rumours doing the rounds, because they’d kept their separation private so as not to harm his father’s reputation.

What rankled most, as it had most of his life, was that his Dad hadn’t even called himself, not even his closest assistant had been the one to make the call, a lowly staffer was all he got, telling him that ‘the PM thinks it best you move into 10 Downing Street for the foreseeable’.

It wasn’t that he wanted to be front page news, he didn’t go looking for it like some, but ever since his father had swept to power on a promise of reuniting the country, the press had been on him like bees round a honeypot, half the time making up their own gossip without him even leaving his living room. He wasn’t like his brother, the fine upstanding Andy, who still ran the farm that their Dad had grown up on, Andy with the sick daughter who everyone doted on, including Robert, he’s not that terrible a human being. Then there was Vic, the darling of the press, who smiled and waved every time she left the building, who would often take some of her newest creations out to the waiting press gaggle for them to try. Robert was just trying to live his life, but that wasn’t good enough, never had been.

“I need you to come with me tonight. I think it would be a good idea for people to see you doing some good for a change. Diane is already attending a charity event.”

“Where is it?”

“The palace. Be ready for 7.” He turned to leave. “And Robert, I don’t want any silliness, not like last time.”

Honestly, he thought, you get slightly merry one time at a Downing Street party and you never hear the end of it. It’s not like he’d declared war on anyone, he just, well he might’ve broken a vase. As he’d told his Dad numerous times it was hideous anyway and deserved to be broken, but apparently it’d been a gift from some country or other that the country needed to trade with. Robert really didn’t think that trade deals depended on a frankly ugly piece of china but as had been pointed out to him equally as many times he knew nothing about politics and should keep his nose out.

It wasn’t that he was politically ignorant, he voted, he read the news, he researched anything that might be relevant to him or his job, but after years of hearing his parents fighting because his Dad was forever away from home or spending more time sorting out his constituents problems than those in his own family, as far as he was concerned the whole thing was a pantomime. The happy family that had stood on the steps outside, smiling and waving, was nothing but a charade. He and Andy barely spoke, which was fine by him, his Dad could barely stand the sight of him and Diane and Victoria just wanted them all to get along and that meant Robert should shut up and get on with it. 

With his Dad gone he turns to start unpacking. He was here for however long it took for the stories to die down whether he liked it or not.

“They told me you were here.”

“Hiya trouble.” He pulls his sister into a hug, eyeing up the doughnut she was holding, he was starving after missing breakfast and lunch. “That for me?”

“Thought you might need it. Dad said you were going with him tonight?” She hands him the plate before bouncing on the bed. Sometimes it’s hard to believe she’s a fully fledged adult.

“Not willingly.” He mumbles around his food. “This ’s good.”

“It’s boring is what it is. Why won’t you try some of my other flavours?”

“Because you do not mess with jam doughnuts Vic. Some things have to remain sacred in this world.” He smiles a little at her huff and licks the sugar from his fingers before joining her on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go tonight?”

“I went last time. Besides, it’ll give you the chance to stare at you know who all night.” He groans, regretting once more the late night conversation a few years ago when he was still living at home.

“I hate you.”

“You love me.”

“Debatable. Anyway I don’t want to stare at anyone, least of all him.”

“So the words His Royal Hotness didn’t pass your lips?”

“Vodka had passed my lips.” He pointed out, hoping she couldn’t see him blush. So he fancied the second in line to the throne, it wasn’t like he was alone.

“So you don’t fancy him then?” He shakes his head at her, irritated but loving her all the same. She was the only one of them who knew he was bi, well no, he supposed his Dad did even if they’d never actually managed a conversation. He idly wonders what it’d be like to tell everyone what had happened, to see the scales fall from the eyes of the nation about their perfect leader. He’d never do it, would never hurt Vic like that, but sometimes the look on his Dad’s face if he did would comfort him somehow.

“No!” She’d tease him all the more if he admitted it.

“Hm.”

“The man never smiles Vic. Last year, at his cousin’s wedding, did you even see him without a scowl?”

“You took notice of him then?” He half heartedly smacks her arm, making her laugh. “I’m glad you’re here, Rob, I missed you.”

“I’ve been here.” It’s lame, because he hasn’t, not really. 

“I mean more than a couple of texts and a phone call once a month. How long are you going to be here?”

“Until I’m not grounded anymore.”

“Idiot. I’m going, Try not to annoy Dad anymore tonight.”

_____

“I meant what I said Robert, best behaviour tonight. I think you’ve made enough headlines with your dalliances for a while, don’t you?” It’s on the tip of his tongue to drag up Rachel, something else that no one knows but family, but he stops himself. It’s not worth the hassle. Hopefully if he gets through tonight he won’t be asked again for a long while.

“Just once it’d be nice if you pretended to have even an ounce of faith in me. You do know Chrissie is right now shacked up with someone else, don’t you? And was before I went anywhere near Rebecca.”

“No one cares about that. Just behave yourself. Is that too much to ask? This isn’t just some party, it’s the Queen and her family. Show some respect.”

Privately he thought that Queen Faith looked rather fun and would be quite at home gossiping over a few glasses of red rather than endlessly shaking hands but he keeps it to himself as they pull up the gates of the palace. He can’t help looking up at the building a little in awe. He’s wouldn’t really class himself as a monarchist, but he doesn’t wish any of them any ill, and he watches all the pomp and ceremony on TV like everyone else. He just doesn’t particularly want to spend the night minding his P’s and Q’s because he’s really not all that good at it.

He takes a deep breath as the car stops and the door is opened. As he watches his Dad step out he can’t help but think his world has really taken a turn in the last 24 hours.

It’s a damn cliche and he hates them, but it’s like something out of a fairytale and he’s only in the entrance hall. Are they called entrance halls in palaces? He really thinks the least his Dad could’ve done if he insisted on him being here was give him a cheat sheet about these things. He’s not even here to ask. He’s already working the room, shaking hands and making contacts. Robert doesn’t even know what this whole shebang is for, for goodness sakes. It’s not like he hasn’t been to an event like this before, but that’s always been a fundraising thing, or a couple of small gatherings once his Dad was elected and they were playing the happy family card. This though, this is a whole other level. One foot wrong and it could be treasonous.

“And this is my son Robert.” He swallows as his Dad approaches with an unfamiliar face but it’s absolutely the type of person he knows will be useful. His father doesn’t bother with anyone who isn’t. So he smiles, shakes hands, and hopes someone will offer him a drink and soon.

_____

It’s all over in a flash. One minute he’s chatting away about the impending black hole in the country’s finances having finally found someone having an interesting conversation, and the next he’s flying towards the ground.

Ok, so maybe he made a joke about the canapés and the amount of money spent. Maybe it was a rubbish joke and he was just trying to impress people, but Prince Aaron had heard him and taken offence. He’d tried to stop him leaving, to explain, reaching out to grab his arm as he did. How was he to know that a simple grab of the arm would mean a punch in the face from an heir to the throne.

All he can see as he gets to his feet, bits of ridiculously expensive canapé all over his best suit is his Dad’s face, redder than he’s ever seen it. He doesn’t even look over at Prince Aaron but he can sense a flurry of activity around him, whereas he’s just stranded.

“I…I’m so sorry.” He daren’t look round, just edges his way out of the room hoping it’s in the direction of the way out, of safety. He knows his Dad is following and hell why does he feel like a kid again.

“I’ve never been so embarrassed Robert. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” 

“It’s not like I assassinated the Queen with a blini, Dad. It was a tray of salmon things. I was the one being punched you know! I’m fine by the way.” He touched his jaw gingerly, hissing as pain blossomed.

“And what did you say to him to make him punch you?” He opens his mouth to answer. “Oh just be quiet Robert. When we get home I don’t want to see you until tomorrow morning. In my office, with Nicola and we’ll see just how much of a mess you’ve made.”

He escapes before the car has even pulled up at the entrance at the back of Downing Street, pushing past the protection officer and storming upstairs to his room only to let out a groan when he sees his sister has made herself nicely at home in his armchair. He does smile when he spies the bar of his favourite chocolate on the table and a beer waiting to be opened.

“So you had a fun night.” She hugs him and just for a second he could imagine it was his Mum, ready to make his day all better. “Is Dad angry?”

“You mean you didn’t hear the explosion all the way over here?” He shakes his head as she sheds his jacket and throws his tie on the bed. “Wasn’t even my fault.”

“Really? That’s not what it says on Twitter."

“I…I just…look it is obscene that they’re spending that much money on food and diamonds and who knows what else. I only said what a good chunk of the country thinks.”

“Yeah but they don’t say it to the second in line to the throne.” 

“I didn’t know he was there! Can I at least get a little sympathy for the fact that he might’ve broken my jaw?”

“Rob, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if he’d broken your jaw. You’re so dramatic sometimes. I’ll get you some frozen peas.”

“Bring the ice cream too.” He calls after her. “The good stuff.”

“You’re going to give yourself diabetes or something.”

“Right now I could care less.” He wanted to wallow, he thinks he deserves that much. He wasn’t the one who threw a punch and ruined the evening. All he’d done was grab his arm, and that was what he got for his trouble. The beloved Prince clearly had anger management issues and he wasn’t taking the blame for that.

_____

All in all he’d enjoyed the rest of the evening. He and Vic had settled into the oversized armchair, somehow managing to fit even if he was half perched on the arm, with the ice cream and more than a couple of beers, watching trashy movies until he literally couldn’t keep his eyes open, all thoughts of what lay ahead forgotten. 

He’s suffering now, his jaw aches, his head is banging and his eyes are full of grit thanks to the early morning call to wake him up. He likes Nicola, his father’s head of communications. She’s fun and she takes as well as she gives, but he’s never been on the wrong side of her until now. Any inkling of friendship they may have formed on those few times he’d campaigned for his father was likely gone. It was even odds that she’d have him hung drawn and quartered in the rose garden if she thought she could get away with it.

“You just can’t go more than 24 hours without giving me a headache can you? Do you think I’m in need of work or something? As if I don’t have enough to do with the Cabinet!” She sweeps into the sitting room, arms full of the day’s papers, slamming them onto the table making him groan. “Serves you right. What on earth did you think you were doing?”

“Would you even believe anything I said? Have you got any paracetamol in that bag of yours?” 

“No. You can sit there and suffer just like I am at having to sort out your mess. You’re an idiot.”

“It’s been said.”

“I’ve spoken with your father, and the palace who are just as keen as us to do some kind of damage control.” He winces as she paces around the room. He should’ve just stayed in bed, that would’ve been a very good idea.

“I would’ve thought it’d be easy for them. Blame it all on me, it’s not like I’m already in the country’s bad books.”

“Oh do stop feeling sorry for yourself Robert. It’s not an attractive look on you.”

“Aw I didn’t know you cared.” He sits forward, trying to catch sight of the notes she’s making. “So go on, or are we waiting for the old man.”

“He left you in my capable hands. More important things to do apparently.” She actually looks sympathetic so he can only imagine what his Dad had actually said. 

“Right. What do I have to do?”

“You’re going to be Prince Aaron’s new best friend. Well, when I say new, I mean we’re going to tell the press that you’ve been friends for a while and that what they saw last night was an accident after a friendly squabble over the football or something.”

“You’re joking, right? Why have I got to play nice with him. He punched me!”

After you insulted his family. I always thought you were bright but I’m reevaluating my opinion.”

“I only said what half the country thinks.”

“That’s as maybe, but they don’t do it in the sovereign’s house. I don’t care what you think of them, no one does, they only care what it looks like. Your father can’t be seen to think like that because the majority of the country don’t.”

“I’m not my father!”

“It’s all the same thing in politics.” Finally she sits down and pushes the stack of newspapers to him. He swallows heavily as he looks at the top one, pictures of the punch, of him sprawled on the floor clutching his jaw. “So we’re going to do this, and you’re going to play nice with him or so help me God Robert I’ll stick you on a plane to the most inhospitable part of this planet with a one way ticket.”

He nods, anything for some peace and an easy life, and she relaxes. It looks like he has a new best friend then.

_____

Within two days it was all arranged. They were to visit a local children’s hospital to meet staff and patients as well as launching a new charity fundraising campaign for one of Aaron’s good causes. Surely even he couldn’t mess that up.

The car journey is excruciating. Aaron doesn’t say a word, only nodding in the right places as Nicola explains everything.

It’s a different story inside, then he’s all smiles and Robert follows his lead, shaking hands, smiling in all the right places, everything he’s been told to do. He watches as Aaron sits by beds, listening to stories, empathising with them. He tries but he isn’t as good. It’s when he sees a young girl with bandages all the way up her arms that he stops.

“What happened?” He asks the nurse escorting him.

“A fire. She got out but her arms were burnt. They’re not too bad but they’ll take a while to heal.” He nods, and approaches the bed, crouching beside it, trying to smile. He’s sure she doesn’t know wh he is as he tries making conversation. She asks about Aaron and he’s glad to fetch him, in awe as he works his magic.

As Aaron had walked over her eyes had widened so much he’d been on the verge of calling for help. Aaron had said nothing, just sat at her bed and chatted about her favourite band, football team stuff like that, just normal stuff. She’d been dumbstruck at first but he just kept talking, putting her at her ease and Robert had been impressed. He’d hung around when Aaron had moved on, to have another chat with her.

“Was that really Prince Aaron?”

“Yep.” He said with a smile. “Cool huh?”

“He’s really normal.”

“He really is.” He said it perfectly normally but inside he realised he was speaking the truth, he’d come to notice that Aaron didn’t have the airs and graces he’d expected, he didn’t ask his aides to get him out of places, he stayed and talked with the children and staff for as long as he wanted even when his aides had been looking at their watches anxiously. 

The next thing he’d known they’d both been hurried away and stuck in what amounted to a cupboard. It was really an office but there wasn’t room to swing a cat. They’d sat in silence for ages before he said anything, not entirely sure how to break the ice considering what had gone on.

“So, you made quite an impression.”

“What?”

“On the kids.”

“Kids are easy enough. Adults cause the problems.” He said and went back to his phone.

“I don’t know how you do it though, doesn’t it get to you? I mean that little girl, she could be scarred for life. Doesn’t it ever get too much?”

“Sometimes but we only see people for a few minutes, it’s the staff who deal with it more than me. Besides, if meeting me makes her day a little better isn’t that a good thing?”

“I suppose.” He’d never thought of it that way before, never had to. He was used to his father, only doing things for votes, when there was something in it for him.

“What is it about her? In particular I mean.” He puts his phone away then, listening, looking at him with those bright blue eyes.

“It’s just burns…my mum, she died in a fire at our farm when I was fifteen.” He shrugged, seeing that girl had brought it all back, the burns to his hands, minor in comparison, that he’d got trying to reach his mum. “Just can’t help remembering.”

“I’m sorry. You should’ve said. Nicola and Leyla could’ve sent us somewhere else.”

“Not sure they’d do me any favours right now.” That makes Aaron laugh. “You should do that more often.”

“What?”

“Laugh. Makes you look more approachable than your usual scowl…more beautiful…shit, sorry. I didn’t mean…”

“You don’t think I’m beautiful?”

“Of course I do…wait…um…”

“I’m teasing.”

“I’m sorry.” He says after they’ve been quiet a while, the silence less awkward than before even though he’s still embarrassed.

“For what?”

“The other night, at the palace. I had no right to say what I did. I didn’t even mean it, I was just trying to be funny.”

“Maybe don’t give up your day job to become a comedian.” He replies, and Robert can see a hint of a smile. “You’re not the first person to put their foot in it. We take bets on how long it’ll take.”

“Yeah? Well I’m sorry anyway. My only excuse is my Dad forcing me to go along when he knew I was in a mood. I was just being childish.”

“Well then I should apologise for hitting you.” He nods. It’s done with, he’d not even done any damage despite his dramatics. “It was just, you grabbed my arm…”

“Yeah sorry. I was trying to say sorry.”

“I don’t…I don’t deal well with people grabbing at me.”

“I s’pose it happens quite a lot.” His brain catches up with him a moment too late. “Oh…yeah sorry.” He remembers now, reading the story when he was little about someone trying to snatch him, when he was little. No wonder it’d got the reaction it did.

“Stop saying sorry, it doesn’t suit you.”

“Sorry. Damn.” They smiled at each other as if they were sharing a secret.

“You know you’re not so bad.”

“For someone living such a privileged life you mean?”

“Yeah. I really am sorry. It’s not like my own isn’t, being the PM’s son opens doors one way or another and I’ve taken advantage of it even though I swore I wouldn’t. I just…that night, me and Dad, we’d had a row and he dragged me along knowing full well I didn’t want to be there.”

“You don’t get on?”

“Understatement.” They fall silent again and he checks his watch. “How long do you reckon we’ll be here.”

“Who knows. Ellis will come and get us when it’s safe.” Robert had met Ellis, Aaron’s protection officer, was suitably intimidated even though the two of them seemed to get on well enough.

“Happen a lot?”

“A fair bit. Usually nothing though.”

“Well at least we’re talking now. Should keep people happy.”

“Is that all that matters?”

“No. Look I know I’ve been an idiot but you’re alright. We could just do what we’re telling people we’re doing.”

“And what’s that?”

“Being mates. I’m guessing they’re not that easy to come by in your position, and, well I’ve never been the best at having friends.”

“You want to be mates? With me?”

“Is that such a surprise?” He’s disappointed that Aaron sounds so surprised, he thought they’d started to get along alright.

“Well yeah, you hate me.”

“No I don’t. I’ve told you why I behaved the way I did. I’m being serious, but if you don’t want to then we’ll just keep up the pretence for as long as we need to.” He gets up, no real idea where he’s going as they’re stuck in this room but he can’t keep sitting there next to him.

“I didn’t say that. It’s just…really?”

“Yeah. Don’t sound so surprised.”

“You’re right.” Aaron tells him quietly. “It’s not easy having mates being me. There’s lots of people, but not many that I can talk to. It’s lonely sometimes.”

“You’ve got your family though at least.” Aaron just shrugs and doesn’t answer. Robert leaves it, he knows families aren’t as simple as people think. “Look, I’ll give you my number then you can call me, whenever. I mean it.”

_____

“So go on then, what’s it really like?” He asks Aaron, settling himself down on his sofa, happy to be back in his own home now his Dad was satisfied with the positive press their visit to the hospital had got. The furore had died down pretty quickly once a prominent footballer had been caught partying the night away before an important match. He’d feel aggrieved that he and Aaron had been relegated to the middle pages if he wasn’t so pleased.

He’d been surprised when Aaron had turned up at his door not a week after the visit to the hospital. He’d been about to ask how he found out where he lived but stopped himself before he could look a fool. Of course Aaron would be able to find out pretty much anything he wanted.

“What?”

“Being a royal.”

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“No? People to cater to your every whim…sounds pretty cushy to me.”

“How’s your life going, from your fancy flat and poncy car?” Aaron teases back laughing. 

“Still had to cook my own tea though didn’t I?”

“And you think I didn’t? It’s not all silver salvers round mine you know. Not when it’s just us. Gran, yeah, but that’s not me.” He goes quiet and Robert has the sense to stay quiet. “It’s really not this perfect life people see you know. Like I told you, it’s pretty lonely.”

“Really?”

“Do you think I get to just meet people like you do? Everyone I meet, I’m always wondering if I can trust them, or wondering what they want from me. I’m not confident like my cousin Debbie or Belle, I don’t like the limelight.”

“Oh…” He didn’t really know what to say.

“It’s alright, I’m used to it.”

“You shouldn’t have to be.”

“What are you going to do, stage a revolution?”

“Given my track record of getting things right lately I’m not sure that’d actually help you.” He laughs, sipping at his beer. He marvelled a little at how his life was turning out. Not long ago he’d felt like he had nothing, he and Chrissie were over, he was bored at work and the only person in his family who cared was his sister. Now he was drinking with a member of the royal family.

“Probably not.”

“At least you’ve got me, eh?”

“Really?”

“No…you got me. I can’t keep it in any longer, I’m actually after your money.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Sorry. I was just…it was a joke Aaron.” He sits up, realising he’s put his foot in it, that Aaron’s gone back to being closed off, the frown fully back in place. “I promise. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Plenty would…have.”

“Really?”

“The last guy I was seeing, no one knew, not like I can tell everyone is it. I really thought it might go somewhere. Turns out he just wanted to be able to say he’d had a member of the royal family.” He sets down his mug, hunching his shoulders, pulling his sleeves over his hands as if trying to hide himself away.

“Aaron, that’s awful. Hope you set your guards on him.”

“He was gone, I didn’t care anymore…just…wish it could be different.”

“Can’t you…I mean some of your family have left, well you know, they have regular jobs and that.” Aaron shakes his head.

“I’m too high up…besides my mum would never allow it, even though I barely do anything as it is.”

“Does she get a say? Over your gran I mean.”

“Not really I suppose. It’s just easier, my mum, it’s just difficult.” Robert nods, he doesn’t get it, not at all but he can tell it’s difficult for Aaron and he doesn’t want to push. He likes him, even just sitting here chatting is more fun than he’s had in ages and he doesn’t want to ruin it.

“You said…you couldn’t tell anyone about him. I guess you meant go public, can I ask why not? It’s not like your being gay is a secret is it.” He remembered the interview he’d given when he turned twenty one, the fuss in the papers after about Aaron coming out. He’d thought it incredibly brave, wishing he could be even half as brave as that. He’d only told his sister, couldn’t even think about anyone else knowing.

“It’s not about that, it’s about it being the right person. Until then, it’s best if things are kept…quiet.”

“That’s…terrible.”

“It’s just how it is. You get used to it. Better that than being plastered all over the papers.”

“Is that you or the family talking?”

“I don’t know…you’re the one who’s been getting the headlines lately, what would you prefer?”

“Fair enough.” He picks at the label on his beer bottle, weighing up his thoughts, wondering whether to just go for it. “I, um…as we’re telling truths…no one knows except my sister. I’m bisexual.”

“Oh. Well thanks for telling me, for trusting me.” He lets out a breath, not entirely sure what reaction he expected if any. It was just new to even say it out loud. 

“I know it’s not the same and no one’s making me keep quiet.” Not entirely true, his Dad’s opinions made him reluctant to say anything. “But I do get it, in part at least.”

“Thanks. For telling me, for listening. You’re alright you.”

“Gee thanks.”

_____

The next few weeks are the best time Robert’s had for ages, if not forever. He and Aaron talk every day, just stupid stuff like the football scores or something fun that had happened, and he found himself looking for updates on any of his engagements any moment he had spare time. 

It was a week ago that it happened, they’d been on his sofa, sitting close watching a movie. He’d suggested the cinema without thinking, before his brain could catch up with the fact that something like that wasn’t simple for Aaron. So they’d settled for an old Bond movie in his flat, complete with a takeaway.

When the film finished he’d leant forward to pick up his drink and he’d felt Aaron’s lips on his, just a slight touch, but enough to make him stutter.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I just wasn’t…well you know.” He sighs. “I’m making a mess of this.”

“So you wouldn’t be averse to it happening again?”

“Averse? Smooth.” He laughs, trying to ease the tension that’s fallen over them.

“You don’t have to laugh at me.” Aaron gets to his feet heading for the door before Robert can get up.

“I’m not. Aaron, wait…” He goes to follow him out of the door but Ellis stands in front of him as Aaron walks away. “Aaron!”

_____

“So have you spoken to him?” Vic asks as she moves around his kitchen. “What am I saying, of course you haven’t. Robert, you’re not going to solve anything sitting here and moping into your beer.”

“Of course I’ve tried to speak to him! He won’t answer me. I can’t exactly turn up on his doorstep can I? I’d end up with a bayonet in my face!”

“Do I have to do everything? You know who you need to talk to don’t you.” He frowns at her. “Nicola.”

“What? No way.”

“She was the one who started all this, making you spend time with each other. Maybe she can come up with another event the two of you can attend. Then he’ll have to talk to you.”

“You’re really quite devious aren’t you, beneath that innocent exterior. Thing is, Nicola’s not exactly one for doing me favours. You could ask her though.”

“Robert!”

“Please Vic. I need to talk to him, to make him see I’m not…well I just need to talk to him.” She glared at him but sighed and nodded. “You’re the best.”

“I’ll be expecting an absolutely massive present for my birthday and Christmas for this.”

“Whatever you want.”

_____

He doesn’t know what Vic said to Nicola but when he meets her at the arts centre where she’s arranged something she’s got that knowing smile on her face. 

“The Prince will be here in a minute. You’ll watch a quick performance by the students and look interested and then you’ll meet them. After that, oh dear his car will have been told the wrong time to collect him so you’ll be gallant and offer him a lift in the car your father has kindly loaned us.”

“Gallant?”

“Do you want my help?”

“Yes.”

“Then be quiet.”

“Just one thing, how did you swing the car thing…he’s got bodyguards and all that.”

“I know people. Don’t question it, just make the most of it because I’m not doing you any more favours even if you do send your sister to do your dirty work.”

“You’re a little belter really aren’t you?”

“Yes, and don’t you forget it. Now go on, they should be here any time.”

He hangs around until he hears a ripple of applause outside and he guesses Aaron’s car has arrived. 

The event goes without a hitch, even if Aaron doesn’t so much as look in his direction, only doing just what is necessary. When Ellis tells him the car hasn’t turned up the frown deepens on his face and Robert wonders if there’s any point in trying to speak to him.

“I’ve got a car.” He blurts out. “I mean, my Dad loaned me a car for the day…I can take you home. If that’s alright with Ellis.” 

Nicola had obviously got to him because he agrees without hesitating and Robert breathes out a sigh of relief. Sitting in the back of the car with a driver and Ellis in front is awkward but he knows it’s his only chance.

“I’m sorry. About the other night.” Aaron doesn’t turn away from the window. “Aaron come on. You just caught me by surprise that’s all. I didn’t laugh at you.”

“Yes you did.”

“No, I laughed at…you sounded so formal that’s all. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have.”

“It’s not easy for me, I told you that.”

“I know. I put my foot in it quite a lot if you hadn’t noticed.” Finally he smiles and lowers his voice. “I really wouldn’t mind if you did it again…in case that wasn’t clear.”

“Here?” His eyes flickered to the front of the car.

“Maybe not, but you could come to mine for dinner.”

“Do you know what I really fancy? And don’t say you. I want to go out, just us, where no one knows who we are.”

“And that’s doable is it?” Aaron nods. “Ok.”

_____

“Can’t say this is what I imagined.” He says looking round the burger joint Aaron’s brought him to.

“What did you imagine?”

“I dunno, starched tablecloths, six or seven sets of cutlery.” He teases. “I’m kidding. Just didn’t expect you of all people to know a place like this existed.”

“I’ve been coming here for years. A mate of Ellis’s owns it and he keeps his mouth shut so there’s no press about. I can feel normal for a while if I’m here…and the burgers are pretty good too.” Robert nodded in agreement. “So…what are we?”

“Well I’m Robert…and you…well you keep surprising me.”

“Prat. I meant me and you…is this like a date or what?”

“If you like.” It’s weird, it should feel odd, the prospect of dating royalty, but it doesn’t because Aaron’s nothing like he imagined, there’s no airs and graces, he’s just like anyone else. Maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised but he couldn’t help it. “First date I’ve been on where someone’s needed a bodyguard but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.”

“Ellis is alright. Most of them are, but he’s a little less boring. Not that he couldn’t flatten you in seconds if he needed to.” Robert didn’t doubt it. He’d not seen the man without a smile yet, but he was sure that’d change pretty quick if Aaron was in trouble.

“Has he needed to often?”

“Not him, no.”

“Sorry, I forgot, about what happened when you were a kid. I s’pose your family got a bit more overprotective after that.”

“You know you said, the other night about me not being your usual royal.” He nods. “Sometimes I wish I was.”

“What all the handshaking and knighting people? Can’t really see you doin’ that."

“Maybe not, but the way it is now, I don’t feel like I actually do much of anything.”

“Of course you do, look at the kids at the hospital, they adored you. If you were one of the stuffed shirts you wouldn’t have that.” Aaron doesn’t answer, just pokes at his food. “So why aren’t you?”

“Huh?”

“Why aren’t you out there like the rest. Second in line to the throne is fairly important isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Like I said, my family are overprotective. No one knows this, and you can’t breathe a word Robert.” He nods, he’d never do that. “It wasn’t an attempted snatching, when I was a kid. They actually did take me, only for a few hours but…yeah.”

“Aaron…You must’ve been terrified. What were you, six, seven?” Aaron nods and Robert reaches for his hand. “God.”

“Yeah. It was kept quiet, presumably to stop it being raked over every five minutes, even though it’s in every article written about me. That and to stop someone else doing the same, thinking it was easy. They made up some story about me being rescued by my protection officers before they could ever get me out of the car, and the papers bought it. After that I think my family decided, well my gran, that they wouldn’t put me in harms way again and so I was never given an actual role. In some ways it’s good. I get to pick the stuff I like, the causes I’m interested in, but most of the time I’m bored.”

“So tell them. Tell them you’re an adult now and you want to do more.”

“Maybe.”

“Can’t see anyone trying anything again. I wouldn’t argue with you, let alone Ellis.” That makes him laugh. “Do you think about it much?”

“Not really. It doesn’t bother me much anymore, just like I said, if someone grabs at me, just memories you know.” He nods and tries to change the subject, wants Aaron to smile again.

“So…if this is a date, is it presumptuous of me to ask what happens next.”

“I’d thought that was obvious.” He winks at him with a smile.

“Ha ha. I meant with you being who you are. You said things were kept quiet…is that the case for everyone? Have we got to sneak round?” He wasn’t entirely against the idea, he had no desire to talk to his father about dating Aaron but he wanted to know where he stood.

“Not exactly. I’ve never been serious enough about anyone to tell my family before but in the end I will I suppose. But I don’t think either of us are there yet are we? Let alone the press finding out.”

“No. Definitely not.” He’d had his fill of being in the papers. So, we just carry on as we are then, for now. No point involving anyone else.” Aaron nods. “My Dad will go mad, just as a warning.”

“Yeah? Does that bother you.”

“Probably more than it should.”

“Then like you say, for now we don’t tell anyone. Sneaking around is half the fun, don’t you think?”

“Eat your burger.”

_____

They exist in their happy bubble for the next few months, they’re not really sneaking around but mostly they’re spending time at his place, and the odd time when Aaron sneaks him into the palace. It’s all a bit of a dream, but he never wants it to change because he’s falling for Aaron like he’s never done with anyone before.

“You want to what?” Vic cries when he goes over to Downing Street to see her. She’s the only person he’s told about Aaron, the only one he’d want to tell.

“Would you shout it a bit louder, I don’t think the coppers at the gate quite heard you.”

“Sorry. But…really? You want to propose.”

“Yeah. Do you think I’m being daft? We’ve only been dating a few months, I know, but he’s it Vic, I know it.”

“It’s not like marrying just anyone Rob. You’re going to be in the papers for stuff that you don’t even do, you know that. You’re giving up your privacy, everything.”

“He’s worth it. He really is Vic. He’s not like the others, he’s not how you imagine. He’s like us. He’s funny, he’s clever…he puts up with me.”

“He must be a keeper then. Dad’s going to freak out.”

“Something like that yeah.” He wishes he could tell her, so she could reassure him that it’d be alright but he’s never been able to. She loves their Dad too much he could never do it to her. 

“So how are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know. Probably at home, it’s not like we can really go anywhere special, and it doesn’t feel right to do it where we do go.” As much as he liked their dates in the burger place it wasn’t somewhere he wanted to propose. “You could help me cook something special couldn’t you, make it proper, like a real restaurant or something.”

“Yeah, of course I can. You’re really going to do this? With everything that comes with him, his family, the press…all of it.”

“He’s worth it. I don’t want to be without him Vic.” 

_____

“You didn’t say we were dressing up. I’m just wearing this.” He tugs at his hoodie, scowling at Robert in his suit.

“It doesn’t matter. You look amazing, as always.”

“Oh god, what’ve you done, you’re putting on the charm.”

“Shut up. I just felt like dressing up. Would you prefer I just took my jacket off?” Aaron nods so Robert takes it off and throws it to one side. “Right, beer?”

“So, what’s your day been like?”

“Boring, you know.”

“Well no, I don’t, do I.” Robert actually liked that he forgot that Aaron didn’t live a normal life but he hands him his beer and tells him about his day, about the annoying clients, the office gossip until their meal is ready.

“This is good.”

“I had help. Vic came over. She’s angling to meet you, just so you know.”

“I don’t mind.”

“We’ll sort something out, I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t.”

“I’ve been thinking.”

“Always dangerous.”

“Ha ha. No, do you ever think about the future, going public I mean.”

“You want to?”

“Well not right now, but do you? Think about telling your family about me, us?”

“Sometimes. I know how it’ll go and that’s not something I’m ready for yet. Not because of you, but…once it’s out there that’s it.” He picks up his beer and moves to the sofa, Robert following. “You’re part of the circus and there’s no stopping it.”

“What if…I mean, what if I wanted to be part of it?”

“Then I’d say you were insane.”

“Stop it. I mean it…I love you.” It wasn’t the first time they’d said it, but every time it brought a smile to their faces. “And I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“What?” He reaches behind him, to the drawer in the side table and retrieves the ring box he’d placed there earlier. “Robert…”

“If I could I’d do this in some fancy restaurant, but I know you’d hate that anyway. But,” He slid off the sofa, onto one knee on the floor. “Aaron, will you marry me?"

“Get up.” His heart drops but he does, sitting further away from Aaron than he had, Aaron immediately moving closer. “Always going to the worst possible outcome aren’t you. Of course I’ll marry you, you idiot.”

“You will.”

“Yeah. For some reason you want to join my mad family and in my book that makes you pretty special.” Robert can’t speak, and Aaron smiles, opening the ring box, taking one and placing it on his finger. “Looks pretty good doesn’t it.”

“Amazing. I know we can’t wear them yet, but…”

“One day we will.” He leans in to kiss him, neither one of them pulling away this time. “I guess now we have to tell my family, and your Dad.”

“Mmm. Maybe not just yet though eh? Much more interesting things we can do tonight than talk about them.”

_____

Weeks passed and still they hadn’t plucked up the courage to tell anyone. Even Vic didn’t know he’d actually asked Aaron, he’d fobbed her off any time she mentioned it. They were happy just the two of them, sharing a secret and they didn’t want it to end even thought they knew one day it had to. Neither of them wanted to let the real world in.

He’d woken one morning after a late night working to a phone full of messages, mostly from Aaron but some from his dad and sister too. He switches on the TV while he wakes up enough to read them, freezing when he hears his name.

“…private texts have been released which seem to suggest that the Prime Ministers son is having an affair with the prince. The palace have refused to comment…”

He just stares at the television, stunned, doesn’t even correct them on the fact it’s not an affair. He can’t make himself think or do anything, just watches as the news shows archive footage of the two of them rehashing old stories as they do. Before he knows it his phone is ringing and he answers without looking.

“Robert, what the hell are you thinking? How dare you embarrass me like this.”

“Dad I…” He stops, nothing he can say will make any difference, he won’t listen.

“Is it true?”

“I…” He wants to talk to Aaron, he doesn’t want to answer him.

“IS IT TRUE!”

“Yes. I’m sorry…” He stops, because he’s not, he loves Aaron even if he’s not told him yet, he loves him and he’s not apologising for that. “No, I’m not sorry. Yes we’re together. We’re getting married.”

“How could you do this. I thought I’d told you what I thought about this.”

“You mean when you hit me? When I was fifteen? I’m an adult now, I can date who I want and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He hoped his voice sounded braver than he felt. 

“Your sister is going to be so disappointed Robert.”

“I doubt it, she’s known for ages.” He wants to slap himself for letting that out, now his sister would be getting it in the neck for keeping it from him. He’ll have to call her as soon as he gets off the phone. “Look I’m an adult, I’m not apologising for falling in love.”

He doesn’t get an answer, just the beeps to let him know his father has hung up on him. He sighs, texting Vic an apology before calling Aaron. 

“It’s me.” He hears Aaron sigh over the phone. “I’m sorry.”

“What for? I wrote them too. Can you come over? My Gran, and Mum want to see us.” He sounds awful and Robert wishes he could just whisk them away from it all and just be alone. “We’re alright though aren’t we, me and you."

“Yeah, course. Give me half an hour and I’ll be there.”

“Has your Dad said anything?”

“A bit, then he hung up. It’s fine, no more than I expected. I’ll see you soon.”

The trip to the palace is uneventful, thankfully no reporters appear to have found his address, but as they approach the gates the cameras start flashing and all Robert can do is keep his head down as they drive through. Aaron’s waiting with Leyla when he gets out and he wants to just pull Aaron into his arms and tell him everything will be ok, but Leyla’s all but frogmarching them through the hallways.

“We’ve set up in the main sitting room until we can work out what our response is going to be.”

“What do you mean? Aaron and I are together. What kind of response do you want?”

“It’s not as simple as that.” Leyla’s just looking at him as if he’s got two heads. “There are ways of doing this. We should’ve controlled it, made a proper announcement, and now we’re playing catch up.”

“Thank you Leyla, we’ll take it from here. I’ll call you when we’re ready.” Aaron’s Mum is stood at the door, eyes boring into him and he makes himself stare back. They’ve not met before, not properly, but from the things Aaron said he’s already got an impression of her and it’s not particularly good. “Come in, both of you and sit down.”

“How could you do this Aaron? Show us up like this?” She says, her fingernails tapping on the desk, setting Robert’s teeth on edge. He wants to intervene to put her straight, to tell her that he’d been the one who had started emailing, had kept on until Aaron replied, but the squeeze on his hand told him to be quiet.

“Mum, it’s not as if you didn’t know I was gay. Surely even you could work out that one day I’d meet a man I liked.”

“That is not the point! With him Aaron! How does it look, hmm? Your grandmother is meant to be politically impartial. How can she be when you’re cavorting with the Prime Ministers son! No, you’ll have to end it, that’s all there is to it.”

“Now hang on.” He can’t keep quiet, can’t stand to see the way Aaron shrinks into himself as she speaks. “My father’s politics are nothing to do with me.”

“Mum…” Aaron starts but she just holds up a hand to silence him. Only Aaron’s pleading look stops him saying anything.

“We’re waiting for your grandmother and then we’ll get to sorting out this mess.”

“Mess? Is that what you think this is?”

“Robert…”

“No, Aaron. We haven’t done anything wrong. Last time I checked we were two consenting adults who like each other. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Maybe in your world, but in ours it’s a different matter. I told you Aaron, I told you we’d find someone suitable for you.” 

"You’re kidding right? It’s 2021, you can’t just arrange marriages.”

“Robert don’t.” Aaron pleaded, and he shut his mouth. “Mum, we’re together, that’s it.”

“No that is not it, Aaron. I’ve called a family meeting, and you will attend and explain yourself.” Aaron shakes his head as he opens his mouth to answer, to tell her not to look down her nose at him. Before he can say anything to Aaron the door opens and the Queen walks in, followed by her heir and others he recognises as Aaron’s extended family.

“Well now, this is all a bit of a pickle isn’t it. Come on then, sit down.” Robert follows Aaron’s lead, sinking into one of the sofas, keeping hold of his hand the whole time. “Oh don’t look so worried Aaron, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”

“Mother! This is a mess, one that could’ve been avoided if Aaron had an ounce of sense!”

“Oh be quiet Chastity.” Robert thinks he could quite easily love Aaron’s grandmother if he wasn’t so intimidated by her. “The person you should be angry at is the one selling secrets.”

“No I think we should be angry at them for hiding!”

“No wonder given the way you’re acting!” He bites back. “Such an incentive to be truthful.”

“Robert, don’t.”

“You don’t speak to me like that! That’s beside the point, as is whoever leaked those messages. What’s important is that the two of you have embarrassed the family, the monarchy.”

“How?” He speaks up finally. 

“What?”

“How have we embarrassed the family? By falling in love? Last time I checked my father hadn’t yet made that illegal. All we’ve done is send each other texts here and there. It’s not our fault that they got hacked. Probably by some kid in his bedroom with nothing better to do. What?” He asks when he sees Aaron smiling at him.

“Sounds like you’re talking from experience.”

“If it is I’m not likely to admit to anything in front of your grandmother am I?” Aaron grins at him, knowing exactly what he’d been doing. He can’t help noticing that Aaron’s uncle is smiling so maybe not everyone is against them. That’s something at least. “It’s not like they’ve got pictures of us doing anything, it’s just texts. They’re really not that interesting.

“Cheers.” Aaron mutters.

“That’s beside the point, and just because my son inexplicably finds you funny doesn’t mean that I do. Do you have any idea what this could do to the monarchy? I wouldn’t expect a farmers son to understand.”

“Hey!” He stands up. He might have his own issues with his father but he won’t stand for anyone else looking down on him. “I don’t think you understand, sat up here in your castle. It’s the twenty first century, maybe the monarchy should drag itself into it.”

“Oh no doubt you’d like that. That’s what started all this. He’s just infatuated you know, Aaron. Wants to get his feet under the table so he can change us, maybe even get rid of us altogether!”

“Mum you’re being ridiculous and hysterical.” Aaron turns to his grandmother. “Gran, we’re sorry about all this, honestly, but we’re not sorry we’re together.”

“Aaron love, it’s alright. Your mother is just a bit overwrought as usual.”

“Mother!”

“Hush. I think what’s best is if the two of you wait next door while we chat and then we’ll talk it over.” Aaron sighs but he nods and motions for Robert to follow him.

They escape then, and he holds Aaron as he cries, so angry he wants to storm back in and have it out with her.

“You don’t have to put up with this you know.”

“I do. It’s how it works.”

“So what, you’re just going to let her run your life?”

“What choice do I have?”

“Stand up to her. Someone has to change things, and I’m right here with you. Don’t make yourself unhappy.”

“That’s not how it goes.”

“Well it should be! Not you being sent out of the room while they decide your fate for you as if you were six years old”

“Alright sunshine?” He turns to see Aaron’s uncle heading for them and Aaron’s nodding. “Your mum…she’s…”

“Controlling.” He says before he can stop himself.

“You’d do well to be quiet a minute about stuff you don’t understand.” He nods, he doesn’t want to make things any worse for Aaron. Besides he might not be frightened by him like many are but he’s also not stupid. “Why don’t you come back and we’ll get this sorted.”

“There’s nothing to sort Cain, we’re together.”

“No one’s saying different, but there are things to talk about, now come on. You too.”

They go back in and Robert’s surprised to see that Chas is still there, he’d half expected her to walk out. Maybe wishful thinking on his part.

“Ah there you are. Now then love, let’s talk about this sensibly and without any drama.” She turns to look at her daughter fixing her with a stare. Robert wants to kiss her, maybe would if it wouldn’t get him locked up.

“Thanks Gran.” Aaron goes to sit beside her, clinging onto Robert’s hand so he has no choice but to follow. “I really am sorry I didn’t come and tell you myself, we were planning to but…”

“Oh that’s all done with now. What we’re going to do is call Leyla back in here and sort this out. We’ll put out a proper announcement and tell everyone that we’re all very happy for you and that they should respect your privacy, and that will be that.”

“But…” Chas pipes up and Robert can’t help the glare he sends her way.

“And that will be that! Understood?” She fixes her gaze on her daughter and Robert can’t help but be impressed. “Now, there’ll probably be a few events you can both attend you know, but other than that both of you carry on.”

Robert can’t help but look at Aaron, sees him coming out of the shell he’d retreated into when his mother had been shouting. 

“Actually gran, I think I’d like to do more. I know why you’ve not asked before, but I think I should.” Robert’s smile is making his face ache but he’s so proud of Aaron for telling them what he wants he doesn’t care.

“We can talk about that love…it’ll be lovely to have you getting stuck in. Now is that all?”

“Um…” He speaks up, ignores Aaron’s frantic whispering, but he figures that now is as good a time as any. “There’s just one other thing, if that’s alright I mean.”

“Oh get on with it.” Cain grumbles.

“I asked Aaron to marry me, and he said yes. I just thought…well that might as well go in the statement as well, if we’re being all up front and that.” He sits back with a smile as all hell breaks loose once more. Even Aaron kicking his shin can’t dent his enjoyment.

_____

“Your Royal Highness, Mr Sugden is here.” Robert can imagine the way Aaron smiled as the courtier left and Robert walked in the room. They weren’t usually so formal, he could come and go pretty much as he pleased these days, but this week just wasn’t ordinary.

When he walks in Aaron’s on the phone and he sits to wait. It was moments like this that made him marvel at how much his life had changed. These days he’s welcomed at the palace like an old friend rather than with suspicion.

Now he was just as likely to be included on the guest list with world leaders as he used to be invited to business dinners.

Ever since their engagement had been announced it had been like a whirlwind, of events, of planning, of dealing with Aaron’s family. Most of them had been happy for them, Robert immediately got the impression that Aaron was the darling of the family, and he knew why, and he’d been welcomed with open arms.

“Where’d you go?” Aaron’s waving a hand in front of his face, and he realised he’d zoned out while Aaron had been talking.

“Nowhere, just thinking. You alright?” His mind has been doing it all day, wandering off, reminiscing he supposed.

“Yeah, fed up with all this nonsense. Better now you're here.”

“Our wedding is nonsense?” He’s teasing, but maybe a part of him still needs the reassurance.

“No! The rest of it, the ceremony room, the flowers, the napkins, and whatever other problems Leyla has been coming to me about for the past month and a half. I just want to marry you, why do I care what colour the napkins are? All you do is wipe your mouth, or worse on them.” Robert can’t keep the laughter in any longer, backing off when Aaron slaps a hand on his chest. “It’s alright for you, you get to leave of an evening. I’m stuck with it!”

“As if I’ve got it any better? I’ve got Vic staying! It doesn’t matter. In two days it’ll all be over and we’ll be off to somewhere hot and private leaving all of this behind.”

“The way our luck’s gone there’ll be a volcanic eruption or something.”

“Ah there’s my Aaron, always looking on the bright side.”

“You have to admit, it’s not exactly been plain sailing.”

“No, but we got through it didn’t we? That’s the important thing. Just this last interview to do and then it’s just us.”

“At a dinner for both our families, that your idea of just us?” He wraps his arms round him then, knows just how much he hates all the pomp that comes with his family, how much he enjoyed sneaking out those times, just the two of them and Ellis as security, when they’d go to the burger joint they could and just be, well normal. They hadn’t cared that most of their dates were in his flat, it didn’t matter as long as they were together.

He hates to think how Aaron coped before they met, stuck in this world, trying to be something he isn’t. They were both stuck now, not that he minded quite so much, he’d rather be here than back at Downing Street with his father.

“What are you thinking?” Aaron asked as he let him go, straightening out his tie as he did.

“Just about Nicola, ordering me to be your new best friend. Don’t think she expected us to end up here. Neither did I to be fair."He could remember he face, the day it had all come out, shouting at them until he’d thought she’d explode before she burst into laughing, patting him on the back and wishing him luck.

“You were a bit of a prick back then.”

“And you were a grumpy git. Still are to be honest.” He laughs and Aaron’s pout. “I’m kidding. Do you think we can do this?”

“Bit late now. My mother will have you in the tower if you so much as hurt a single hair on my head let alone jilt me.”

“It’s even odds that she’ll do it anyway even if I don’t.” His usual charm had failed to win her round and he didn’t think he ever would. Whatever he tried, no matter how good an idea it was or how much Aaron asked her to be nice she barely gave him the time of day. “I am trying with her you know.”

“I know. Everyone can see it except her. I don’t care, Robert. I love you. If she doesn’t stop she’ll end up pushing me away and I’d rather that happened when I was with you than be on my own.”

“I hate to think of you back then, dealing with her all alone, with all of it.”

“Just like I hate to think of you dealing with your Dad. We can’t change the past, but from now on we’ve got each other.”

“Nothing else matters.”

“Too right.” He reached up to kiss him. “Come on, or we’ll be late.”

“Last chance to elope.” He asks, only semi joking. They’d even talked about it once, even thought they knew it was a pipe dream.

_____

He swallows the water from the glass on the table as though it’s a lifeline, other hand clasped in Aaron’s as they wait for all the cameras to finish setting up. Aaron looks calmer but then he’s done this before. Every royal does an interview when they hit twenty one, but this is Robert’s first time, the nearest he’d got was standing outside number ten the day after his Dad was elected and all he’d had to do then was wave.

“Alright?” Aaron whispers.

“Yeah.” He turns, to try and ignore the cameras, only to see Aaron’s uncle standing in the doorway, arms crossed.

“He’s on our side you know.”

“Yeah. Still wish he looked less like he’d gladly bury me in the palace grounds.”

“That’s just Cain. He’s a teddy bear.”

“Hmm.”

“Right, I think we’re ready.” Leyla tells them, giving them a once over and Robert can’t help but think back to school, as if he’s being inspected. “You’ll do. Now, you remember what we’ve said?” He nods, they’d met the interviewer and everything, going over it all. It hadn’t made him feel any better. He just had to get through it.

“Yes. It’s imprinted on my brain Leyla. You and Nicola have drummed it into us. We’ll be good boys.” Aaron tells her and Robert resists the urge to say something to make him laugh.

With that she goes and the camera lights are switched on. Robert takes a deep breath and puts on the face he usually reserved for clients he detested. It felt appropriate.

“Your Royal Highness, Robert, thank you for granting us this interview. I wanted to start by talking about how the two of you met. I believe it wasn’t love at first sight as it were.”

“Not exactly.” Aaron laughs and squeezes Robert’s hand. “You could say that we disagreed on certain ideas he had about my family.”

“I’d say it was more that I could see the potential for a little bit of modernisation.” It was a complete lie and Aaron knew it. Although Queen Faith had actually begun to make some changes, nothing big as yet but it had left him feeling slightly vindicated.

“Of course there were reports of a fight between you. Robert I believe you were left with a black eye.”

“Oh no.” He jumps in before Aaron can feel guilty all over again. “It was nothing, just a disagreement and I tripped. It startled Aaron. Anyone would react that way if startled I’d say.”

“And your comments that evening?” She pressed.

“Shouldn’t be held against him anymore than some of the things I’ve said or done in the past should be held against me.” Aaron insists, taking his hand once again.

Many times over the last couple of months on the joint engagements they’d done in the lead up to the wedding had he said something sarcastic or cracked a joke before realising he’d put his foot in it. Aaron had been there to smooth over ruffled feathers, to say a few words to undo the mess he’d got them in.

He’d drifted off again, thinking back to how miserable he’d been that night, not realising just how everything was about to change only coming back to the present when Aaron nudges his shoulder, and he has to ask the interviewer to repeat her question.

“I asked what your first impressions were of Prince Aaron?” He looks sideways, sees Aaron smirking.

“I thought he was pretty moody to be honest. He hadn’t laughed at any of my jokes.”

“That’s because your jokes just aren’t funny.” Aaron fires back and he knows what he’s doing, trying to make them forget all of the tension there’d been, to move the interview on. It was their own fault, they’d both agreed it was to be no holds barred, none of this pre-agreed nonsense.

“I’ll have you know I’m extremely funny.”

“Right, and next you’ll be telling me you’re a good dancer.”

“If I may…I understand that you were instructed to play nice as it were after the negative press headlines. How did that feel?”

“You get used to it.” Aaron says, shrugging.

“We got on with it, I wanted to undo any damage I’d caused, and my father’s head of communications came up with a plan. It’s not unheard of. Besides which, without her, we wouldn’t be here now, would we?” He turns on his best smile, still doesn’t see what anyone finds so interesting about it all.

“You didn’t feel bad about deceiving people, pretending to be friends when in fact you couldn’t stand the sight of each other.”

“I wouldn’t say that. Have you seen him?” His eyes widen, he hadn’t meant to say that at all. “What I mean is…um…”

“What he’s trying to say, unsuccessfully, is that we both understand how these things work. We were glad to get together for the charities we worked with during that time, and the fact that it brought us together was a pretty good by product. In fact we’re asking that instead of gifts and stuff, that we really do appreciate, that people give to the chosen charities instead.” Robert nods along, thanking goodness Aaron was miles better at this than him. He could only wonder what his Dad would be thinking when he watched.

“So how exactly did things change. How did you go from enemies to a couple?”

“Ah well. To be honest it’s pretty boring.”

“I’m sure it’s not, but our viewers would love to know.”

“Well it started with a security scare. Our protection officers took us to an internal room where we’d be safe, and we were there for quite a while and we got talking.”

“We found out that we had far more in common than either of us realised, and that was it really.”“So it was that moment that changed everything?”

“Oh no I still thought he was a prat, just not a complete idiot.” Aaron laughs. “We just started talking more, texting the odd funny story or something that had happened in our day and it went from there.”

“There’s not many people who really understand the scrutiny you’re under if your family is in the public eye. I don’t even understand how Aaron feels because it’s a different situation to myself, but I do know that it’s incredibly hard to find people to trust, to know that they like you because of you, not because of who you are. So yeah, I guess we kind of gravitated towards each other, and became friends before we realised how we felt about each other.”

“Speaking of that trust, how did you feel when your private texts and conversations were made public.”

“Devastated. We should be able to expect the same level of privacy as anyone else.”

“You don’t think the public had a right to know?”

“No. I don’t want to know about their relationships unless they want to tell me so why should they expect to know about mine.” Aaron answers and Robert can see the steely look in his eyes that he knows so well.

“You weren’t trying to hide?”

“No.”

“But you can understand why it might seem like you were, the constant denials while behind the scenes you were sneaking around.”

“We’re entitled to a private life. We shouldn’t have to feel pressured to reveal anything about our lives before we’re ready. We would’ve gone public when we were fully ready.”

“Can you tell me how you felt when it did become public knowledge?” Robert looked at Aaron remembering exactly how he felt. “How your families reacted.”

His Dad had been furious, would’ve disowned him if it wouldn’t have looked so bad to the electorate in an election year. As it was he’d had to be persuaded by Victoria to even put out a statement of support. Ever since he’d been frosty with him if they had to be in the same room. Vic had tried her best but he wouldn’t budge. Robert hated that despite everything he found he missed him even thought he can’t remember the last time they had a proper conversation.

“Disappointed of course, us that is, that someone would take private communications and leak them to the press. As we’ve said, whoever you are you are entitled to some amount of privacy. As for our families, they’ve been nothing but supportive.” He doesn’t catch Aaron’s eye as he speaks, because they both know it’s a lie.

In the end it had done neither family any harm, the public had loved them from the start, lapping up all and any photographs or stories, so much so that they’d pretty much holed up in his apartment for a good month hoping the fuss would die down. Both the royal family and his father had never been more popular, not that their parents were grateful.

“Yes, we all remember the speeches they gave.” Robert would dearly love to put her straight, to tell her just how his father had needed to be forced to support him but it wouldn’t do any good. Who would believe him anyway.

“Of course.” Aaron was closed off, his mother still did nothing but make little comments every time they saw her. She couldn’t stop them marrying, not once his Gran had given her blessing, but she could make it difficult for her son and Robert hated her how it made Aaron feel.

“Now, moving onto the wedding.” Robert relaxed, this was better, this was something good they could talk about. “The guest list is quite an eclectic mix, and not the usual list of people for a royal wedding.”

“Well we’re not your usual royal couple.” Aaron tells her. “My grandmother told me I should have who I want there, not who I’m told to have. I’m…we’re very grateful to her.”

“And, can I ask where your honeymoon will be?”

“No.” He tells her, a little shortly.

“What he means is, he’s being mean and won’t tell me.”

“Do I really have to explain the concept of a surprise again?” He looked at the interviewer as if to say, see what I have to deal with.

“And after the wedding, will you be residing in one of the royal residences?”

“Oh, well we haven’t really decided yet.” That was an understatement. What he should’ve said was they were still arguing about it. Robert wanted them to live in his flat, it was nice enough, with security already in place, while Aaron, or more precisely his family, wanted them to have an apartment in one of the palaces.

“And lastly, what is it you love the most about each other?”

“I suppose, having someone there for the bad days, for the good times. Knowing that he’s always there for me, no matter what, whether I mess up or whether I’m doing something brilliant. I think that’s what everyone wants isn’t it?” He knew that was a dig at his father even if it was subtle, but he didn’t care. That’s exactly what Aaron gave him, unconditional support.

“Your royal highness? What about you?”

“He makes me feel safe.”

_____

Robert had dragged Aaron back to his flat after the interview, knowing his family would be all over him otherwise. His final comment would’ve raised some eyebrows and Robert wanted to protect him from it the best he could. They’d have to go back, they had the dinner to attend but they could just take some time for themselves first.

“Are you alright?” He asks, handing him a mug of strong tea, just how he liked it. “What you said…is that true? That I make you feel safe?”

“Yeah. Course you do.”

“No, I mean…did you not before?” Aaron shrugs.

“I s’pose. The bodyguards and stuff mean we’re safe, but…being who I am means people think we’re their property. Everywhere we go there’s people, pushing and shoving, trying to get close, wanting photos, all that. But with you, you don’t expect anything.”

“I didn’t realise. It always looked like the dream life I suppose.”

“Well it’s not terrible but, I guess I’ve never felt completely safe, as if there’s always something around the corner. It’s not like I could say anything, you just have to put up with it and get on with the job.” Robert wants to storm up to the palace, and rail at his mother for not seeing how much her son was suffering. He knows he can’t, some things you just can’t change. “Ever since I was a kid they kept me from it way longer than anyone else like I told you but I couldn’t stay hidden forever.”

“Well not any more. You’ve got me.”

“I know.”

“It’s been a hell of a few months hasn’t it?” He chuckles. “Did you think we’d ever get here?”

“Course.”

“Liar.”

“I did. I knew how I felt about you and nothing was getting in the way of that.”

“Tomorrow just makes it all official, that’s all.”

“No getting rid of me after that.”

“Good.” He laughs and they set about getting ready for the evening ahead.

“Where do you keep going?” Aaron asks a while later and he realises he’d zoned out again as he was tying his tie. He should really stop that, otherwise it might happen during the vows and that would be disastrous.

“Nowhere, just thinking about everything that’s happened, that’s all.”

“No second thoughts then.”

“Never. I suppose we should go.” Neither of them was particularly looking forward to the formal dinner. It had been a compromise, the wedding and reception were to be just how they wanted, but they’d had to agree to the more formal event beforehand. “It’ll be alright, and then tomorrow is our day.”

_____

Robert’s up early the next morning, the sun barely risen as he looks out of his window. It was his wedding day. He couldn’t believe it was finally here. He wants to text Aaron but the man was annoyingly traditional and had insisted on no contact after the night before.

“Rob, you awake?” His sister’s voice floats through the door and he tells her to come in. “You alright?”

“Yeah. Just missing Aaron, that’s all.” She gets that look, the one as if she’s going to cry and he rolls his eyes fondly and hugs her. She’s stood by him the whole way through, standing up to their Dad for him and helping them with all the plans. “You going to cook your old brother breakfast then?”

“I’m not waiting on you hand and foot just because you’re marrying into royalty.”

“It’s my wedding day! Go on, while I have a shower. We’ve got to be at the palace at ten.”

“I can’t believe it Rob, it’s so exciting! Like a fairytale.”

“Mmm.” It was far too fancy for him but Aaron’s position pretty much demanded it. Maybe it’d be fun if he just relaxed and let himself enjoy it. To her credit the Queen had made it all as easy as she could but there were some things that even she had no control over.

“Have you heard from Dad?” He shakes his head. He hadn’t spoken to him directly since that morning when everything blew apart. Not that he’d really expected different. In public he’d been all smiles and support but Robert knew the truth, knew the smiles didn’t reach his eyes, could see the strain on his face. He knew he’d turn up, he couldn’t not in his position, but he didn’t expect anything else. “I don’t understand him Rob.”

“It’s alright. Me and Dad, it’s not like it’s ever been any different. It used to bother me, but not any more. He’s made his choice. Same with Andy. So, don’t worry about it, ok? I’ve got you, haven’t I?”

“Of course you have! Now go on, shower or you’ll be late.”

A couple of hours later they’re in the car on the way to the palace. He has to admit they do know how to put on a show, flags draped all along the route, and crowds are lining the streets. He can’t deny feeling a little nervous, knowing the eyes of the world are on them. He and Aaron are private, neither of them like the limelight but they’re both practical enough to know they can’t avoid it on a day like this.

The rest of the morning is mostly waiting about in one of the side rooms, Leyla in and out but other than that it’s just him and Vic. He wonders how Aaron’s feeling and after a while the urge to go to him is too much.

“Where are you going?”

“To find Aaron.” He tells are he peeks out of the door to check the hallway.

“You can’t!”

“I have to.” Before she can stop him he slips out of the door. He knows where Aaron’s rooms are, he just needs to get there unseen. Aaron had shown him the back way round before he just hopes he can remember it. He wouldn’t want to burst in on the Queen, or god forbid Aaron’s mother by mistake.

Eventually he finds it, knocks quietly on the door before going in. Aaron’s just sitting on the bed, already dressed, but he looks sad and for a minute Robert thinks he’s had second thoughts. Then he looks round, smiling as soon as he sees him.

“What are you doing here? We said we wouldn’t.”

“Think you’ll find that was all you. I needed to see you. Everything alright?”

“Yeah…just, well, Mum was in before.” Robert sighs. “Why can’t she just be happy for me? Everyone else is, the public love us, it’s just her.”

“I’m going to say something that you might slap me for, but your Mum doesn’t matter. It’s not our fault if she’s just too bitter to be happy. Maybe she’s miserable in her own relationship and it’s coming out on us, I don’t know, but I do know that a parent should be happy for their child on their wedding day and the fact she’s not is not your fault. It’s all her.”

“I know…I just…”

“Yeah, I know.” He felt the same, as many times as he denied it, he wanted his dad’s approval more than anything even though he knew he’d never get it. It hurt all the same that it wasn’t there. “Do you want to…I don’t know, wait? Do this another time.”

“What? Do you?”

“No! I just…it’s meant to be the happiest day of your life isn’t it, but it’s bothering you.” He shrugged.

“We can’t. Everything’s sorted, planned.”

“Want to bet? My car’s downstairs.” He winks at him, not entirely serious but if Aaron asked he’d do it. “Well?”

“No. I’ll be alright in a minute. You’d really do that for me though? Just leave?”

“There’s not much I wouldn’t do for you, you know that.”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever…I mean I know my family love me but…”

“I know. Good job we’ve got each other then, isn’t it?” He wrapped an arm around him, not caring if he creased his suit or not. “You ready?”

“Yeah. You should go back to Vic.”

“We’ll collect her on the way. I’m not leaving you. We’re doing this together, all the way.”

A few minutes later they’re at the ceremony room, hand in hand, and by the end of the day almost every news outlet is proclaiming never to have seen a couple so in love.