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I don’t even know why I fell in love with you

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New Year’s Eve, when you’re snowed in a house in the French Alps, far away from the next village, is a quiet business. 

There are no fireworks. 

There are no drunken party people.

But there is other noise. Smacking lips, low moans, hushed whispers, harsh grunts and bare skin slapping on bare skin. A bed bumping, sheets rustling. A shout.

The new year starts with a different sort of firework, one that Aaron never expected when he drove up the mountain two days ago. 

 

 

“Happy new year, Robert,” he whispers into the blond hair and his fingertips gently stroke up and down the tanned arm that is lying across his belly. 

Robert is resting his head on his chest, curled up to his side, like he belongs there. 

“Happy new year.” He presses a kiss between Aaron’s pecs where the skin is still damp from sweat. 

There is nothing quite like the post-orgasmic bliss, where his body is getting heavy and his limbs feel jelly, but his brain is still replaying scenes from the past hour over and over. 

He smiles like an idiot at the ceiling, but he can’t fight it. He doesn’t want to either. 

Because he is happy. 

Like, really, really happy. 

The moonlight is shining through the floor-to-ceiling window, bright and blue, thankfully providing enough light to prevent another panic attack. Their torches died with the battery of their phones a while ago. But Aaron feels safe and content like this, with Robert. 

“We can keep the curtains open, if you like,” Robert mutters, half-asleep already as if he could read Aaron’s thoughts. 

Falling in love wasn’t on his to-do-list for 2017, but it seems the new year has its own plans.

 

 

Robert’s kicking wakes him up, but when Aaron turns his head and looks at the other man, he can’t be mad. All the hard lines are gone, his face is all relaxed and his mouth slightly ajar. The freckles are standing out prominent on the tanned skin that is building a lovely contrast to the white sheets. 

Aaron’s heart flips again and he sighs with a smile tugging on the corners of his mouth.

Robert flaming Sugden. Of all people. This had to happen with him.

He rubs his face and gets up, since it’s bright outside already. Robert's watch is lying on the nightstand, a golden one with a worn-out leather band - not quite the Rolex you’d expect - and Aaron sees it’s half past nine. Not wanting to wake Robert up, he sneaks out of the room and walks into the kitchen, whistling some random ABBA tune that’s stuck in his head for whatever reason. 

The first thing he sees is the clock at the fridge is blinking and that means the power is back! 

Although he isn’t technically allowed to touch things in Robert’s sanctuary without his explicit permission, he feels bold enough to make a brew. 

Aaron leans against the counter and closes his eyes.

It’s 2017.

2017.

There was a time when he was convinced he wouldn’t make it that far.

And now he owns a business. 

And he might be falling in love.

He’s usually not one for new year’s resolutions, mostly because he knows he won’t keep them for long and then he will only be disappointed in himself and frustrated. Better just not make them in the first place. 

But hell, all of this is crazy, right? So why not be a little crazy, too?

Aaron Dingle makes a new year’s resolution in Robert Sugden’s kitchen and it’s to be happy. He decides he’s had enough misery, so this is going to be his new start. He earned this after 2016, he fucking earned it. 

A smile on his face, he takes his coffee and goes to the living room. The remains of last night are still there: their glasses, Robert’s jacket and tie, Aaron’s jumper. He slips it on, because he starts to freeze in just his briefs, then he makes a line for the book shelf and stares at those erotic novels, before he takes one out. 

Seriously, he has been so damn curious about these since he discovered them, he has to take a look at them! 

Snuggled up in a blanket he gets comfy on the couch and starts reading. He is positively surprised about the story and forgets time and surroundings as he gets pulled into it, until a noise startles him. 

Aaron jumps and his eyes snap up.

Robert is standing there under the arch to the hallway, blinking sleepily and ruffling his flat hair. He’s wearing a bathrobe over his white tee and his boxers and if Aaron wasn’t already falling - this would be the final push over the edge. 

“Hi. The power is back. I made coffee,” he says and hopes Robert won’t rip his head off.

But apparently Robert is still too tired to get mad, because he just yawns and scratches his belly lazily. 

Aaron’s not gonna lie, but this is a sight he might get used to. He wants to get used to. Every morning. 

Aaron puts the book down and stands up from the sofa. “Hey, I was thinking… after last night,” he starts, “does your offer still stand?”

“What offer?” Robert looks adorably confused and presses a sloppy kiss on Aaron’s mouth. 

It’s such a sweet little gesture, to get a good-morning-kiss, that Aaron isn’t used to receiving. It makes him tingle all over again. 

“About the investment. In the yard,” Aaron elaborates, “I know, I said I don’t want your money, but I… uh… changed my mind. If… you know… you're still on board.”

Robert would be his business partner and what seemed like a nightmare two days ago, is a great opportunity now, Aaron thinks. From what Robert told, he has a lot of expertise and could actually help their business and his money would basically stay in the family, since Adam is going to be his brother-in-law soon. And he and Robert get on really well, like mind blowingly well. Also, who knows? Robert might end up back in Emmerdale in the end?

One can hope. 

Aaron hopes. 

Something in Robert’s face changes and he takes a step back. “I see,” he says, voice neutral. 

Maybe he needs some time to think about it, Aaron reckons. Don’t fuck in the company is a saying after all, isn’t it? He understands his hesitation.

“I don‘t discuss business before breakfast,“ Robert informs him and turns away from Aaron already. 

They eat together and it‘s a quiet moment. Robert doesn‘t talk at all while he‘s eating his fruits. Aaron doesn‘t mind, he quite enjoys being silent with Robert as weird as it sounds. 

He keeps glancing up at the other man and his heart won‘t stop doing that little hiccup every time he does. 

“Gonna have another lie down,“ Robert mutters as soon as he has swallowed the last bite and quickly disappears before Aaron can even reply. 

It’s obvious that Robert doesn’t want Aaron to join him - otherwise he’d said it or waited for him. And to be honest, Aaron didn‘t see that coming, he stupidly thought they might spend some time together. After last night he feels kinda needy for more. But he doesn‘t wanna come across clingy or something, because he isn‘t. He‘s cool.

He can be cool.

After he put the dishes away, there isn’t much else to do, so Aaron goes back to reading and waits for Robert to come out of his room again.

 

 

Lunch time passed and Robert is still in his room and there slowly is a weird feeling rising in Aaron’s guts. He kinda wants to knock at the door or sneak in and snuggle up with Robert in bed, but he doesn’t want to wake him up.

It’s not like how he imagined that first day of the new year, his new start of being more happy.

He’s a little lost in that house, alone. At least his phone is charged again now and he goes back to playing Candy Crush. Always a good time killer. 

 

 

Aaron knows he is not allowed to, but he cooks pasta at some point, because he’s so damn hungry. The food in the fridge mostly didn’t survive the black out, but he finds canned tomato sauce on one of the shelves.

He manages getting a meal ready without causing another fire, so that’s a success.

When he carefully knocks on Robert’s door, he’s nervous without really knowing why. He can’t put his finger on it, but this day is so off in comparison to yesterday. 

“Robert? I… uh… I made some food,” he says with a slightly raised voice. “Nothing happened, this time, I swear.” The smile on his face feels a little bit strained. 

He gets no answer, but he waits for another minute. Just silence. 

Robert must still be asleep then.

It was a long night yesterday and they had quite some alcohol and it’s not unusual for people to sleep through New Year’s Day, right? The clock in the kitchen tells him that it’s half past three, and Aaron’s stupid brain thinks that it wasn’t that late last night and they hadn’t that much alcohol. 

He eats the pasta alone in the kitchen and even after he’s finished, the empty feeling in his stomach won’t subside. 

 

 

It’s melting, the snow is melting outside. And it’s melting fast!

Aaron hasn’t noticed at first, but now he stares in wonder at the crumbling snow piles. He’s on the back porch where it is suddenly ten degrees warmer than yesterday and the melted water is running in tiny ditches across the area where he’s standing. Rain set in as well, determined to destroy the Winter Wonderland as quickly as possible. The snow looks dirty now. 

There isn‘t much of yesterday’s beauty left.

 

 

In the evening, Robert finally emerges from his room and although he was resting the whole day, he doesn't look like it. 

“I saw snowploughs from my bedroom window. I suppose the streets will be clear tomorrow,” he informs Aaron, every word clipped. 

He’s almost 10 feet away as if he doesn’t want to be too close to Aaron and he avoids his eye. 

“That’s… that’s good, right?” Aaron smiles.

It’s not good, nothing is good. Everything is terribly awkward between them and Aaron wants to go back to yesterday and relive it all. 

He wishes he could touch Robert, hug him, but he doesn’t know how.  

The man he spent New Year’s Eve with seems to be gone and is replaced by this cold and distanced look alike. 

Robert looks at him then, the first time since this morning and his expression is closed off. 

“Look, I’m leaving first thing tomorrow. The cleaners are supposed to come around noon, so if you’d leave before that would be great.”

So, maybe Aaron is a dumb Dingle after all, because he didn‘t realise until now that Robert actively avoided him all day. 

But this he gets immediately.

He‘s getting kicked out. 

Robert’s words are sinking in, heavy like a stone, and Aaron is stunned to silence, not sure what to say.

Even after Robert disappeared back in his room - he muttered something about a headache, which is probably just another bullshit lie - Aaron is still standing there next to the couch, rooted to the spot.

It’s hard to get his head around what happened, but his heart knows the answer almost immediately. 

He was being used. 

Robert had his bit of fun and now he’s going back to being an awful douche again. 

What if everything that happened yesterday was just fake? What if Robert was only being so nice to get Aaron into his bed? And God, did he fall for the trap so easily. A few smiles here, a few touches there, a bit of shared memories and bang, Aaron was ready to forget their history of fights and give in just like that. Robert must be laughing behind his closed door, how easy that had been. 

He is just another notch on Robert’s bedpost. 

How could he read it all so wrong? How could he ever think any of this was real? Didn’t he wonder at first how odd it was that Robert suddenly was all nice and caring? He should have trusted that feeling in his guts. Aaron feels incredibly stupid. 

And used and dirty.

He hasn’t felt that in a long time.

He showers twice and scrubs his skin until it’s red and sensitive. His hands are screaming with pain when he uses the sponge over and over, but that doesn’t stop him. It spurs him on. 

 

 

Incoming video call…

Adam

 

Contemplating to just ignore the call, Aaron stares at the display for a long moment, before he sighs and slides his thumb over the screen. 

“Hiya!” his best friend greets him excitedly. “Happy new year, my one true love!”

It wrangles a weak smile out of him, the best he can master right now. “Hi Adam. Happy new year to you too.”

“I tried to call you last night, but your phone went straight to voicemail.”

“Yeah, we had a power cut. Couldn’t charge it, sorry.”

Adam squints at the screen. “Are you in bed already? Mate, it’s half past eight! Is the new year turning you into a grandpa or what?” He laughs. “Where’s Robert?”

Aaron’s heart clenches at the mention of the name and he knows this is bad, really really bad. He’s fucked. How on Earth could he fall for that wanker?

“Uh, in his room, I guess. We’re tired,” he lies. 

“Ohhhh,” Adam says excitedly and his eyes are sparkling. “Is that so, huh? So, you had a good party of two then? C’mon tell me, I wanna know everything!”

Aaron thinks back to the wonderful dinner, all the food they had, the Snowballs, their jokes and little banter. The laughs. Robert’s face in the light of the fire.

Robert moaning his name.

“It was good, yeah.” He smiles and it feels weird, his muscles stiff. 

There is a silence and Adam obviously waits for him to go on, but he can’t talk about it. He doesn’t want to. What happened in France should stay in France and never be mentioned again, maybe Aaron can move on then. 

The longer the pause is stretching the more Adam’s broad grin falters. Too late Aaron realises he should have given him some crumbs at least, because now his mate knows that something’s up.

“What happened?” Adam always knew him best and could see right through him. How could Aaron forget that?

“Nothing.”

The brown eyes are looking sad now. “Ah c’mon, Aaron. I know you. I know something’s bugging you.”

“It’s nothing,” he insists, harsher now. “I’m just tired. Am I not allowed to be tired on New Year’s Day?”

Attack is the best form of defence. Adam needs to get off his back!

“Okay… you’d tell if something’s wrong, right?” his best friend still seems convinced. 

Aaron rolls his eyes. “I’m not a child, Adam. Don’t treat me like one.”

He can handle this alone. It’s just a little heartbreak. Over nothing, really. In a few days, he’ll be able to laugh about it. There is no need to make a big deal about it and he definitely doesn’t need Adam fussing about it. 

Vic appears over Adam’s shoulder, smiling happily. “Hiya. Happy new year!”

“Happy new year,” he says and forces that smile again. 

Vic gives him a look and Aaron realises how much she looks like her brother. The big green eyes, the nose… Great, now that he noticed it, he can‘t unsee it and every time he’ll meet his friend, he’ll see Mr Twat as well. 

“Huh. You are moping just like Robert,” she states. 

“I’m not moping!” He rubs his forehead exasperated. “And we are just tired. It was a long night and we had alcohol…”

“... and nothing else happened?” She wants to know and Aaron regrets taking the call in the first place. 

“Gotta get up. We’re having dinner now,” he lies and quickly adds: “Driving home tomorrow, so see you soon, bye.”

And then he hangs up without waiting for a reply. It was a dick move, but he needed to get away from this conversation and his two best friends with their super-observation. 

Tomorrow he‘d drive off as soon as he‘s got his car out of the snow and the streets are clear. And in the future he‘ll stay at home when the moron decides to show his mug in the village. Aaron doesn‘t need to see him ever again. 

Maybe he should make this his new New Year‘s resolution. Since the other one, to be happy, lasted exactly 9 hours which might be a new negative record, even for him.

 

 

It's the end of March and awfully cold and wet and Aaron can‘t wait for Spring. He’s sick and tired of this goddamn Winter. He rings the bell of Keeper’s Cottage, takes a step further under the little roof and shifts on his feet, balancing the present from one hand to another. It‘s not only a gift for the birthday girl, but for the ‘special guest’ of the party as well.

Vic opens the door and her cheeks are glowing with excitement. She did her hair extra for today and wears a new dress. 

“Happy birthday,“ Aaron smiles at her. “You look amazing.“

She is definitely having that pregnancy glow that Adam loves to gush about. He hugs her and she whispers a thank you into his neck.

Today, she‘s 12 weeks pregnant and Aaron felt very honoured that he was the first person they confided in weeks ago, mostly because it was sheer impossible for Adam to keep quiet about it for so long. Aaron vowed to be the best uncle this baby could ever wish for.

“You might want to open that after you tell your guests,“ he says, heavy with meaning, and hands his present over. 

He isn‘t a baby expert, by all means, but he saw this yellow blanket with little cartoon animals in a shop window and he had to buy it. 

She beams at him and pulls him into her and Adam‘s house. It‘s warm here and it smells delicious. Aaron’s mouth is watering already when he thinks about food, he saved his hunger for the party because Vic is a brilliant chef. He hears Adam chattering in the living room which means there are guests already when he pulls off his jacket.

Aaron goes to the kitchen first and grabs a beer from the fridge, before he walks into the living room.

He stops dead in his tracks, not prepared for the sight. Two green eyes are glaring at him. 

Three months. Three months since he last saw Robert Sugden and it still hurts. 

His heart still hurts. 

He’s sitting there, wearing a suit, with widely spread legs like he owns the whole goddamn couch.

“You told me he wouldn‘t come!“ Aaron hisses at Adam right at the same moment Robert says to Vic: “What‘s he doing here? You said ‘family celebration‘!“

Anger is boiling quickly inside him. “I am family,“ he growls.

He sees Adam and Vic basically every day. Fuck, he held Vic‘s hair when she got sick on the scrapyard a few weeks ago. How dare Sugden showing up twice a year and playing the big family man!

“The hell you are!“ Sugden is getting up from the couch and taking a few steps in his direction.

He probably wants to be intimidating, but Aaron only scoffs. The high and mighty Robert Sugden, oh boy, did he not miss him. 

That Sugden actually invested in the scrapyard after everything came as a surprise. Aaron expected him to back out, honestly, but maybe he did it for his sister’s sake after all. He’s just glad Adam negotiated the deal with Sugden alone, because Aaron would have told him where to shove his bloody money.

“Stop it! Both of you!” Vic steps in the space between them, staring them down with all the stubbornness her 5 feet tiny body manages. “I invited you both so you can get this thing that’s going on between you two out of the way once and for all!”

“There is nothing going on between us!” Aaron says through gritted teeth.

He glares at Robert and sees a flicker of something in his eyes, but then his expression hardens, his jaw is working and the muscles underneath his temples are twitching. If looks could kill, Aaron would be dead by now. 

But mind you, so would Robert. 

“We all know that’s a lie. Something did happen in that cabin on New Year’s Eve, because you’ve both been moping and miserable since then,” Vic insists. “And I want you to talk about whatever it is tonight, like the adults you are. This… thing…” she flails her arms, “needs to stop! I don’t want to be in the middle of your stupid clash and neither does Adam.” She emphasises her words with a stern look, then her whole posture softens and she smiles a little. “We’re going to need you both, because you are going to play an important role in our baby’s life.” She smiles at her brother when she’s saying those last words and carefully strokes her still flat belly. 

Robert’s focus snaps from Aaron back to his sister. His mouth falls open in shock.

“You’re pregnant?” he says, a mixture between surprised and in awe. 

“Aw, you didn’t know?” Aaron sneers before Vic can respond, “I’ve known for weeks, seems like I am family after all, wanker!” 

It’s pretty remarkable, considering that Aaron usually overthinks everything, he sometimes says stuff without his brain’s explicit consent. He said the words to lash out, wanting Robert to hurt just like he’s hurting.

Three months and he’s still hurting. Fuck you, Sugden.

“Aaron!” Vic shouts at him, upset.

Everything falls on Robert’s face and he takes a step back as if he’s been slapped. And Aaron reached his goal, because the green eyes are widening, the betrayal on display. But then they are fixing on Aaron again.

One would expect fury now, shouting, threats and pointing fingers. 

Robert Sugden, however, lifts his chin and that arrogant mask appears out of nowhere. “I’ll tell you what you are, Aaron,” he says, calm and smug. “You slept with me because you wanted my money to save your lousy business and that makes you nothing more than a dirty… little... slut.”

Aaron just lunges forward, blind with rage, and shoves Robert back down on the couch. His fist is clenching and God, he wants to punch that smirk off that freckled face so fucking badly! It’s the thought of Vic though that holds him back, because she’s that arsehole’s sister and she’s one of Aaron’s best friends and he can’t do that to her. 

“You!” he spits at Robert, their faces only inches apart. “Call me that again, I dare you! You’re the one who used me. I’m glad you kicked me out, before I-” The words are getting stuck in Aaron’s throat. 

He was this close to saying out loud ‘before I could fall for you’.

But that’s a lie, isn’t it?

It was too late to prevent that from happening. Because all it took was two days to fall in love. Aaron stares into those green eyes and thinks back to their time in the cabin. It’s almost like it happened in another universe. How easy it was between them, how good it felt, how happy he was, even if it was just a blink and you miss it- moment.

His vision swims away with hot and burning tears. 

He’s in love with Robert and he still loves him, no matter how much he hates him at the same time.  

He feels hands - probably from Adam - on his shoulder, trying to pull him back, but he shakes them off.

“I don’t even know why I fell in love with you,” he whispers bitterly before he straightens his back, turns around and flees from the house. 

 

 

He stares at the little stream beneath his feet, arms on the wooden railing and forces his breathing to even out. The small bridge was the first place he could think of, since returning to his own home would have driven him insane. He needs the fresh air to clear his head, a lesson learned from all those years battling his mental health. 

Just a few moments ago, he admitted his feelings for the other man and Aaron wants nothing more than to turn back time. Now his friends know and, much worse, Robert knows and it leaves him exposed and vulnerable. 

His heart is clenching so hard it hurts and he just wants it all to stop. Feelings are crap. 

When he hears footsteps approaching, he turns his head to look at the person and somehow he’s not surprised when he sees it’s Robert. 

He just continues to stare at the water. The anger has subsided by now and it leaves him hollow, he hasn’t got it in him for another fight.

Robert leans next to him against the handrail and Aaron waits for him to say something, but he’s only met with silence. Well, that works for him. He doesn’t know what to say anyway. So they are just standing side by side. Looking. Breathing. 

After a few minutes, Robert finally speaks, quietly: “Vic gave me quite a tongue-lashing for calling you a slut.” Aaron just huffs and shakes his head. After everything he’s been through, after suppressing his sexuality for so long, getting called a slut - you can’t make this shit up. “Sorry.”

Suddenly Aaron feels like crying. This was supposed to be his goddamn year of happiness, not this awful mess of falling for someone who doesn’t love him back. 

“And she also says we’re both idiots,” Robert adds and that has him perk his ears. He glances sideways at the other man. “I thought you just wanted my money, when I wanted…” Robert trails off.

What?!

“What?” Aaron asks and turns fully to face him now. “What did you want?” He’s not sure he’s following. What could someone like Robert possibly want from him?

There is a moment of silence and Aaron watches how Robert’s jaw is working.

“You? Everything?” 

He didn’t expect those two words from this infuriating man he so desperately wanted to get out his system. Robert is avoiding his eye, keeps looking down at his hands and Aaron just stares. And stares. Trying to figure out what the hell is happening here. Trying to make it make sense. 

Because that would mean that Robert felt the same.

Robert wanted him.

Could it really be all just a huge misunderstanding? Three months of misery just because of a stupid miscommunication?  

From one second to another Aaron’s world is upside down.

“And now?” 

Robert lifts his head and his eyes land on Aaron’s face and God, there is that soft expression again that he missed so much. It’s like Robert used to look at him back in that cabin on New Year’s Eve. There is a long moment where the green eyes are just wandering from Aaron’s eyes to his mouth, then up to his hair and back to his eyes.

“I still do.”

His heart leaps in his chest and a broad smile is spreading on his face. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he declares and shifts closer to Robert, as if giving him time to stop him. 

Which he doesn’t. Instead the tiniest of smirks appears.

When their lips meet, it’s like back in France. And even better, because he knows now how Robert feels. And he knows what he feels. They softly gasp in each other’s mouth and Aaron grabs the leather of Robert’s jacket to get him closer. To keep him close. He’ll never let him go again.

Robert gives him one last gentle peck and rests his forehead against Aaron’s. He’s smiling the softest smile. “Now’s a good time to practice my New Year’s resolution, I suppose,” he whispers.

“Yeah? What was it?” Aaron asks, stroking over Robert’s arms.  

“To live more in the now. To appreciate every day.”

It reminds Aaron of what he told Robert during their dinner and he remembers how it got the other thinking, but he never expected that Robert took his words to heart like that. 

“My resolution seems to have just become reality.“

“Hm?“ Robert pulls back to look at him properly. 

Aaron shrugs and smiles. “To be happy,“ he admits.

“Soft lad.“ 

Which is a funny thing for him to say, because Robert‘s eyes and voice are, like, the softest when he says it. Aaron downright melts. He doesn’t feel the cold and wet March weather anymore, because his belly is radiating a tingly warmth and he just wants to capture this moment on the bridge forever. 

They are kissing again, slow and sweet. 

“Can‘t believe we wasted three months instead of doing this all the time.“ Robert's breath tickles on his wet lips. His eyes are sparkling. “Vic is right, you are an idiot.“

“I thought she said we both are idiots…“ Aaron objects. 

He can’t wait to walk back to Keeper’s Cottage together with Robert, can’t wait to see their faces. Vic and Adam have been right about them from the start and Aaron already knows they’ll never hear the end of it. 

“That‘s still up for debate,“ Robert smirks and Aaron rolls his eyes.

Even if it’s probably going to be a messy relationship with lots of fights where they both drive each other insane, he is all in for it. 

Him and Sugden - he can’t quite believe it yet! But this is real. This is the real thing. And he doesn’t know yet how it’ll work out, with Robert living in London and France, but somehow they’ll figure it out.

If nothing else, he is a dumb Dingle after all. He is stubborn. 

“Oh, shut up,“ Aaron says fondly, tempted to pepper little kisses all over those freckles and the dimpled chin. 

“Make me then.“

And Aaron does.