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

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Aaron pushes through the door after he tapped in the six-figure number code and the light switched to green.

He looks around, absolutely baffled. When Adam said ‘hey, let's spend New Year‘s Eve together in a cabin’ in the French Alps, Aaron thought of a tiny, wooden, two-bedroom-cottage. This, however, is nothing less than a freaking mansion with huge floor-to-ceiling windows and a living room that is bigger than Aaron‘s entire house . He stares at the c-shaped leather couch, where approximately 8 people could easily sit on, and the giant fireplace on the left. Next to the fireplace is not just one, but two fire extinguishers and a bucket with water… which, okay, weird . There is also a Christmas tree, a red and golden monster, with so many baubles and sparkling ornaments that Aaron wonders if there is an actual tree underneath at all or just a metal rack. On the right, behind the sofa is a passage to the kitchen. 

It isn‘t a ‘normal’ kitchen, it‘s one of those steel industry ones with pans dangling from the ceiling on thick chains.

It‘s all fucking stylish and expensive and what the fuck? Has Adam won the lottery and not told Aaron?!

“Hello?” he shouts, pulling his jacket off and throwing it on the couch. “Adam? Vic?“

He takes a few steps into the cabin-slash-mansion and strains his ears. 

Vic and Adam booked a flight to Lyon today, whereas Aaron entered the country with his car through the tunnel on Boxing Day. Firstly, he hates flying - if mankind was supposed to fly, they‘d have bloody wings - and secondly, he visited friends from his time in France with Ed. 

Aaron hears a door somewhere in the house opening and steps approaching. The smile on his face dies when he sees that the person entering the living room is definitely not his best friend or his fiancé. 

“Robert? What are you doing here?“ 

It’s Vic‘s older brother, who Aaron has unfortunately met a few times so far and he is an arrogant twat!

Adam never said a word about Smugden being here as well!

“I know the Dingles love to spend their days ankle deep in pig shit and it shows in their manners, but an ‘hello’ would have been polite, Aaron,“ Robert says with his typical high and mighty attitude that makes Aaron‘s blood boil in a nanosecond, before he adds sweetly, “especially since this is my house.“

Aaron stares at him and plots to kill Adam. He’s so gonna kill him for that. Robert’s eyes are slowly wandering over Aaron’s body and the smirk slips off his lips.

“Oi! You are ruining my carpet! What the fuck, Dingle!”

He looks down and hm, okay. Aaron is still wearing his boots and it is snowing outside, and so yeah. Sludge and snow and dirty water is slowly dripping from his shoes onto the off-white carpet. Who even would buy a off-white carpet? An idiot, surely, since it doesn’t forgive anything and even tiniest stains stick out. 

“Oops,” he says, not sorry at all and shrugs. 

It’s grade-A-arsehole behaviour, Aaron is aware. It’s just that Robert is pushing all his buttons. He slides out of his boots and kicks them towards the door. Robert is rushing past him and puts them on a plastic board to prevent further damage to his precious carpet and lets out a string of curses. 

Aaron can’t believe he’s got to spend New Year’s Eve with this moron, this will be the worst holiday ever!

 

 

“You gotta be joking, mate!” Aaron groans and rubs his forehead in frustration. 

He’s lying on his bed, well, his bed for the next few days, which is super comfy and snuggly but shall not stop him from being pissed off now at his so-called best friend, and he stares out of the huge window at the snowfall outside. Everything is so white and bright it hurts his eyes.

Adam just told him that their flight is being delayed because there is a bloody blizzard due to hit the region around Lyon. It’s also most likely going to hit the area where the Sugden cabin is located. 

“So sorry, mate,” Adam says and he really sounds like it.

He better be! Goddamn traitor!

“Why didn’t you tell me this is Robert Sugden’s house? And even worse, that he will be joining us?” he wants to know.

“You would’ve never said yes!”

Aaron groans in response, Adam’s logic gives him a headache. 

“Besides,” his friend adds, “the cabin is amazing, Vic showed me pics. It even has a fucking hot tub, mate. This is gonna be amazing, man. We’d never found something like that for the money.”

“He takes money from his own sister and his soon-to-be brother-in-law?!” Aaron asks incredulously and shakes his head. What a dickhead this Robert is. 

“For electricity, the cleaning and food only. Vic insisted. C’mon, you know how stubborn she gets,” Adam explains and hisses an ‘ouch’ a second later, because Vic probably just slapped his arm. 

Aaron sighs. “And what am I supposed to do until you arrive, huh? I’m here with fucking Sugden, Adam! Sugden!” 

There is a short silence on the other end and Aaron hears the typical noises of the airport in Manchester, before Adam starts talking: “Look, okay. You're not gonna like what I’m saying now…”

“Oh God, no. You’re right. I already don’t like it,” he growls.

As usual his mate ignores his warning. “You two could finally do something about all that UST you’ve got going on.”

“The what now?” Aaron probably doesn’t want to know.

“Unresolved Sexual Tension.”

Yep, he didn’t want to know.

Somewhere at Manchester airport, he hears Vic snickering like an old witch. 

If he didn’t know it better, he’d say his friends are doing this on purpose. His friends are setting him up. With Smugden! Oh for fucks sake. 

“There is no unresolved sexual tension going on between us,” he says grumpily and scowls at the Winterwonderland outside. 

“Yeah, sure,” Adam laughs. Idiot. “The sparks are flying, mate, seriously. You just need to kindle them.”

So, there might be a tiny, little, not really worth mentioning unresolved sexual tension between them. Since Aaron’s known Robert, he has also become familiar with the term ‘hate boner’ . Robert Sugden is attractive, maybe hot even, okay? Fine. There, he admits it. Aaron’s got eyes, he can appreciate someone’s looks. And someone’s hands and arse and thick-

Aaron groans. “You forgot the part where he’s a bigheaded twat.”

“He’s not as bad as you make him out, you know. He‘s nice, actually. I wanted to tell you in the cabin when we’re all together, but… don’t freak out…” After that intro Aaron knows he will freak out in a few seconds, it’s just a fact. “I asked him to invest in the scrapyard.”

“You did what?” Aaron jumps up from the bed and clutches the phone so hard he fears he might crush it. 

“C’mon on,” Adam begs, “you know, we need an investor, unless…” His friend leaves the rest of the sentence unspoken.

Aaron is pacing in circles and rakes his hand through his hair. “You knew I’d never agree to this! Sugden! Of all people! What did he say?”

“He basically agreed to jump in, but he wanted to do some research first. I dunno.”

“Oh yeah, I bet he loves this.” Aaron huffs and shakes his head. “He loves to mock the scrapyard and me being a scrapper and now you begged him for his damn money! I bet he’s laughing his arse off.”

No doubt Sugden will be insufferable the next few days and Aaron will never hear the end of it. It feels like a betrayal. Adam and him are business partners. Equals. Adam had no right to do this behind his back.

“No, he’s not, actually. We need an investor, because you know why!” Adam says, pregnant with meaning and Aaron swallows. “Vic’s brother got money. As I said, he was really nice about it and he’s willing to help out.”

Still, he doesn’t like it. Not one bit. Sugden surely won’t be a silent investor, Aaron can see it already. He’ll demand to have a say in the business and Aaron would be forced to work with him. And, what’s even worse, for him.

Fuck.

“We’ll talk about the deal when I get there. Nothing’s in the bag yet, alright? But since you two are alone for a few more hours, this is a perfect chance to get your heads out of your arses…” Adam pauses and Aaron uses the moment to prepare himself for the horrible, horrible pun that is coming right now. “And, I dunno, put something else there instead.” His soon-to-be ex-mate snickers. “UST, my friend, it’s a thing and it’s happening between you and Robert. I’ll call you when the boarding starts. Byyeee!”

Aaron throws his phone on the mattress and rubs his face. UST, my arse. No matter how hot Sugden may be, nothing will ever happen.

 “He’s still a moron,” Aaron mutters loud in his empty room to no one but himself. 

 

 

When he walks into the living room a little later, he finds it empty. In fact, the whole house is dead silent.

“Robert?”

No answer. Well, all the better. He flops on the couch and searches automatically for the remote - only to realise that there is no remote. 

Or a telly for that matter. Huh.

Aaron frowns and looks around. There is no TV, no screen.

He huffs and throws his hands in the air. Great. Why buy a house with a living room the size of the Woolpack and then not put a bloody telly up?!

For about 10 minutes Aaron‘s just sulking on the sofa, before he gets up and wanders aimlessly around. Now that Robert is gone and doing God knows what, he has the chance to snoop a little. The living room, as huge as it is, doesn’t offer much to do, except from the bookshelf on the opposite wall of the window front. There are lots of books from different genres, fantasy, horror, thriller…

Bit odd, having so many books in a vacation home, Aaron thinks and he even checks if they are real and not just some plastic shit you can buy for 5 pounds to look like an intellectual. Nope, these ones aren’t fake. 

A few spines are catching his eye for some unknown reason, maybe because they are on the top shelf, almost hidden. Or maybe because they are black and white with neon green titles. It looks like it’s a whole series. Aaron wonders what’s so good about them that made Robert buy them. He pulls them out to have a better look and whoah! Whoah!

There is lots of bare skin on the covers, muscled men with defined six packs in explicit poses. 

Ooooof, sweet Lord. 

Aaron quickly skims the text on the backside. These are erotic books. About two men fucking and falling in love. 

Robert reads gay literature. Or, well, LGBTQ literature, seeing one of the guys in the books is bi. And now Aaron does absolutely not imagine Robert in bed, reading those books, touching himself under the blanket…

Ok, he does imagine. Colorful, detailed pictures popping up in his head, pictures he never thought he’d have about his friend’s brother. 

Holy, effing shit. 

Before his mind can explore that equally fucking hot and also very disturbing path any further, the front door opens. Aaron shoves the books hastily back on the shelf, while he hears the sounds of Robert cursing and pulling off his shoes. Aaron whips around to witness how Robert takes a few steps into the living room, looking up and spotting Aaron. 

Robert‘s jacket is covered in snow, he‘s wearing a bobble hat that is completely white as well, his cheeks are pink, just like his nose and his lips are dark red.

Aaron‘s heart does something it definitely should not do, not at the sight of Smugden at least. 

But still… he looks gorgeous. Downright adorable right now. 

“Hey,“ Robert says awkwardly and straightens his back, “I was trying to clear the snow from the driveway for when Vic and Adam arrive, but it won’t stop snowing.“

Aaron rips his eyes off the other man to look outside the windows and huh. Yeah. There is an awful lot of white out there. So much more than when he arrived a few hours ago and it‘s still snowing like crazy. Giant flakes are fluttering down - so many, he can hardly look further than 20 feet. 

Aaron looks back at Robert who just peels off his bobble hat and reveals a floppy hair underneath. 

There are two things Aaron was always certain about Sugden. First, he always, always wears suits, even for a Saturday brunch at Bob‘s café and he probably even sleeps in them. Second, Robert spends an insane amount of time and money on his hair styling. When Vic wants to tease him, she tries to ruffle his hair and he legitimately hates it, always swatting her hand away like no one is allowed to touch his precious blond thatch. 

Who is this man in front of Aaron and what has he done to Robert Sugden?

“Forecast says it‘s gonna get worse. Maybe you can do the next round to make yourself useful for a change,“ Robert suggests in his typical attitude, all supercilious and Aaron feels his hackles rising. 

Ah, there is the Robert Sugden he knows. And that‘s why he can‘t stand that prick. Aaron’s mood does the quickest 180 in history. 

“Fuck you!“ he grits out before he turns around and walks away. Do your fucking clearing yourself, he adds in his head.

“God, you’re always so touchy. Manual labor, no brain needed, I thought that‘s your thing?“ Robert sneers behind him.

Aaron can only hope for Vic and Adam to arrive soon, because otherwise there might be some serious strangling happening.  

He swirls around on the spot and storms back to the blond man.

“You know Adam told me he asked you to invest in our scrapyard, but you can keep your goddamn money and shove it where the sun doesn‘t shine!”

The smirk isn‘t wavering for one second. “Yeah? Adam actually begged me to save your business.“ 

“And I say, fuck you! We don‘t need your money.“ Aaron is so done here and he turns around again to go to his room.

“Yeah, I found that interesting.“

Once more, Aaron turns around, slowly this time, eyes fixed on Robert Sugden. “What?”

“See, I did some research. I don‘t invest in something without checking, I‘m not an idiot,“ Robert says while lifting his chin and putting his hands on his hips. Aaron scoffs. “And so I called my friend at the bank and he said something very interesting to me…“ Robert‘s smirk twists into a wolfish grin and dread fills Aaron‘s belly.

“No.“

“Oh yes. Your ‘business’ -“ Robert gestures the quotes with his fingers in the air, voice dripping with sarcasm, “is… how can I phrase it politely… up shit creek. I knew that though because Adam‘s begging pretty much gave it away. No, the interesting thing is what my contact said about your bank account.“ 

Aaron shakes his head. “You-… you can‘t do that. That‘s illegal.“

There is a thing like banking secrecy, how could Robert get his hands on such confidential information? And which arsehole gave it to him? 

“As if that word means anything to you Dingles!“ Robert huffs, smug as ever. “Your scrapyard is struggling while you‘re hoarding a bloody fortune in your private bank account!“ Aaron just stares at him, staying silent. He wouldn‘t get out a word now anyway. “Does Adam know?“ Robert asks sharply. “Or are you screwing my sister‘s fiancé? Because in that case you are screwing her and I won‘t-”

He slams Robert so hard against the nearest wall, his head bumps with a loud noise against the plaster and finally the arsehole shuts up. Aaron’s fists are holding the fabric of the floral shirt in a death grip and his jaws are clenching. 

“You!” he sneers, raging with fury. “Had. No. Right.”

They stare into each other's eyes and Aaron hates him so much right now, but damn, Sugden is also so hot - which he shouldn’t be, at least not now, when Aaron is pissed off! The freckles and the little specks of brown in those green eyes are making him even more angry, because how dare this moron be so gorgeous! 

“Adam knows,” he growls. “And it’s… it’s a private matter.”

He swore himself to never touch Gordon’s money, he’d rather end up jobless and homeless than use one penny from him. His plan is to donate it to a few charities, but he hasn’t gathered enough courage to tackle this subject yet. 

It’s still too raw.

And of course, now that he thinks of the money, he thinks of Gordon as well. All those memories he buried deep in his mind threaten to come back to the surface. Aaron squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head violently. He won’t let them. He won’t. 

When he opens his eyes, Robert’s expression has changed. Without being sure what the other man saw on Aaron’s face, it must have been something, because the aggressive arrogance is gone now.

“I’m sorry.”

At that, Aaron lets go of him, just wanting to finally go to his guest room and wait until Vic and Adam arrive. He just leaves Robert without another word and walks down the corridor. 

When his phone vibrates and he pulls it out, stopping right in front of his door, he sees it‘s a message from his best friend.

 

Flight canceled. Lyon shut down bc of the snow. Sucks mate ☹️☹️☹️☹️☹️

 

He stands there, dumbfounded, when he hears a phone in the living room binging. Like in slow motion he lifts his head and stares back to where Robert is holding up his iPhone, undoubtedly reading a similar text from his sister.

The green eyes snap up and for a moment they just look at each other, having the same  realisation n the exact same moment.

They are going to spend New Year’s Eve together. Just the two of them.

Fuck.

 

  • -

 

He thinks about leaving, just getting into his car and driving back to the next bigger city to book a hotel for the night and then tomorrow he could drive back home to Emmerdale - he’d be home for the celebration in the Woolpack. But one look outside his window is enough to kill that illusion. 

If anything, the snowfall is getting even worse, his car must be buried by now and Aaron doubts that the streets will be clear up here on the mountain. It’s slowly getting dark now as well. In short, driving is not an option. Leaving is not an option. 

He’s stuck. Stuck with Sugden. 

With a groan he’s pressing his face into the pillow. 

His initial plan to fall asleep and wake up from this nightmare isn’t working like he hoped it would, so Aaron tries to kill the time with some games on his phone. He can hear Robert outside, how he’s walking in the hallway, how he’s using the shower. 

Aaron does his best not to imagine him under the spray, but his best isn’t enough apparently, because he fails and gets horny instead. Why does this arsehole have to be so fucking hot, it’s unfair. 

He contemplates jerking off, but this is Robert’s house and Robert is just outside this door and it’s kinda weird. His paranoia that the other man might hear him, kills his boner eventually. 

30 levels of CandyCrush and his spotify 'running playlist’ later, Aaron is bored to no end and he just lies there and stares at the ceiling. He’s gonna spend New Year  in this room, trying to avoid his friend’s annoying brother, which is just bloody amazing. 

A. Maz. Ing. 

A knock on his door startles him.

“What!” he barks.

“I’m making dinner,” he hears Robert shouting.

Aaron’s stomach grumbles at the mention of food. He just had a quick stop at Maccies before he came here, that’s hardly proper lunch. 

“And?” Yeah, his stubbornness is bigger than his hunger obviously.

He hears a sigh and Robert mutters something that he can’t decipher. It’s probably nothing nice. “You know, if you don’t want people to make fun of how pig-headed the Dingles are, you should stop living up the myth.”

Aaron jumps up from the bed, his fists clenching and he glares at the door ready to rip it open. It’s always the same with Smugden - if it’s not an insult of Aaron’s intelligence or his choice of work, it’s always a remark about the Dingles. Their criminal record, their run-down farm, their general bodily hygiene… Robert’s slandering list is seemingly endless. 

“Whatever,” Robert says loudly. “Come if you’re hungry, or leave it. I don’t care.”

He hears Robert walking away and Aaron is alone again, but he scowls at the door for another 10 minutes.

Come or leave it… he leaves it.

 

 

In his defense, it wasn’t Aaron’s fault that he nearly burnt down Robert’s kitchen.

It was the fault of the goddamn microwave and the lack of an actual toaster. Seriously, who doesn’t have a toaster in their kitchen? It’s like basic equipment. 

It was half past midnight, when he sneaked into the kitchen with an angry growling stomach, straining his ears if there’d be any signs of Robert being still awake and hoping that he wasn’t! Aaron really wasn’t keen on another encounter with the other man.

He rolled his eyes when he discovered the giant double door fridge had an extra section for wine, but his foul mood didn’t last when he found the leftovers of Robert’s dinner neatly put away in tupperware. It was pasta and it smelled like fucking heaven. Aaron quickly shoved it into the microwave and switched it on.

“Yes!“ he hissed excitedly when he saw a loaf of bread on the counter, because every dish got impossibly better with a bit of bread, that’s just a scientific fact.

To his utter surprise though there was no toaster. Like, what the fuck. Well, there were pans, lots of pans in different sizes and Aaron was determined to get his bloody toast – toasted, with that slight roasted taste and crunchy consistency he loved. Of course Robert Sugden didn’t have a normal electric stove like normal people, no, he had a fancy schmancy gas thingy that Aaron had never used before. But really, how hard could it be?

Turned out: very.

Because when Aaron turned the knob nothing at all happened and it took an embarrassing amount of time until the thing finally produced a tiny flame – which is why he totally forgot about the stupid microwave!

To make a long story short: Aaron had accidentally hit 20 minutes instead of 2 and so his food exploded with a loud plop and made a huge mess in the tiny device that he had to clean up while cursing under his breath – which is why he totally forgot about the bloody pan on the stupid stove!

Aaron swears on his beloved Mitsubishi that the smoke came out of nowhere. From one second to the next the kitchen was smoke-filled. Because the pan was on fire, like actually on fire! The bread was shriveled down to two black lumps and looked like coal in the flames.

Above his head the smoke detector began to ring and a sudden panic hit Aaron like lightning, froze him on the spot and he didn’t know what to do!

Water!

Without thinking he grabbed the burning pan and threw it into the sink. Just when he reached for the tab, someone shoved him to the side, screaming: „No!“

Zwoooooosh!

Robert was there, pointing a fire extinguisher at the flames, white foam spreading in the sink and killing the fire. Then he pushed the window open and glared angrily at Aaron, his chest heaving because he was breathing like a bull.

 

The smoke alarm is still ringing and cutting through the awkwardness.

“In my defense…“ Aaron says slowly, „it wasn’t entirely my fault…“

“What the fuck! You nearly burnt down my kitchen!“ Robert roars at him.

“I’m sorry,“ Aaron mutters and now that the cold air is hitting him, the shock slowly wears off and leaves him feeling weak and small.

 “And also never use water to extinguish a fire in the kitchen! Every idiot knows that!“

Yeah, well, now that Robert mentions it, Aaron remembers that as well. He was in fucking shock, alright? People do unreasonable stuff when they are in shock. He wants to shout something back, because he so done with those fucking insults from Robert fucking Sugden, but all the words are dying on his tongue when his brain suddenly reminds him that Robert’s and Vic’s mum died in a fire, years ago when they were kids. God damnit, Robert still has a trauma or something like that according to Vic when it came to fire and now Aaron feels extra guilty and miserable.

“Sorry,“ he whispers and ducks his head. 

Robert seems to have expected another reaction, because he takes another moment to scowl at Aaron before he sighs, takes a step back and the tension leaves his body. And oh! Only now Aaron notices that Sugden is standing there topless, just wearing some worn out pajama pants that are riding dangerously low on his hips. Aaron does absolutely not ogle that sheer endless amount of smooth, tanned, hairless skin of Robert’s torso.

“What were you doing with the pan anyway?“ he asks and looks with a questioning frown at the mess in the sink.

Thankfully the alarm decides to stop making that awful noise before it could have caused an even more awful headache. 

“Toasting bread? Since you’ve got no toaster?“ Aaron says and when Robert gives him a long look that makes him squirm on the spot, he continues: "Seriously, who hasn’t got a-“ Robert wordlessly opens a cupboard and points to the device in there. “Oh.“ So, there is a toaster, great. “Well, who’s got a toaster IN the cupboard, are you serious?“ he says grumpily and crosses his arms.

Aaron knows he’s lost this round. He’s just too stubborn to admit it to Sugden. Seeing right through him, Robert rolls his eyes and shakes his head dismissively.

“Sit down.“

Taking orders, especially from Robert, isn’t Aaron’s strong point exactly, but it’s 1 am and he’s still fucking hungry and the shock is taking its toll, so he sinks down on a chair. The other man gets busy, opens the fridge, grabs another pan, switches the stove on.

“What are you doing?“

Aaron gets another look for that obviously dumb question. “What does it look like? I’m making you dinner.“

 

  • -

 

So Robert - arrogant Robert flaming Sugden, Robert posh twat Sugden - is making him dinner. In the middle of the night. Aaron stares at the scene in sheer disbelief and he hates to admit that it looks like Robert knows what he’s doing. How he’s stirring eggs and how the muscles on his forearm are twitching, how he’s adding milk in a swift motion, how he’s adding pepper with his right hand while he keeps jiggling the pan with his left one.

And has Aaron mentioned that Robert is shirtless?

Because he is. He is very, very shirtless.

It’s a distracting sight and so Aaron doesn’t even notice the pain at first. But once he does, it gets worse with every passing second. His hands are throbbing and Aaron raises them to inspect the damage. The skin on both palms is angry red and there are blisters as well and oh no, his empty stomach is tardily churning and he might get sick, here in Robert’s ritzy kitchen.

 He must make some noise, because suddenly Robert is right in front of him demanding to know what’s wrong.

“Ow,“ he whimpers weakly, not able to think straight with his hands hurting so fucking badly!

Robert’s cursing loudly and pulling him up from his chair. Aaron hobbles on legs that feel like jelly over to the sink where Robert is steering him.

 “Fuck, Aaron! Why haven’t you said anything?“ he mutters and switches on cold water.

Aaron is too busy to bite his tongue to keep himself from screaming when the stream of water hits his burnt skin to answer. He must have hurt himself when he fetched the pan of the stove, but he was in such a shock, his body pumped up with adrenaline, that he didn’t even realise.

The cooling is taking off the sharp edge of the pain, but the throbbing still stays. It’s aching with every heartbeat. He stares miserably at his damaged hands, questioning his life choices in the past 10 hours. Why didn’t he just eat that stupid dinner with Robert earlier? He could be sleeping sated and happy in his bed right now, but no, first the chaos and the fire and now this! What the fuck. 

“Open your mouth.“

The gentle command pulls him out of his thoughts, because… huh? Robert is holding up two pills he miraculously produced from somewhere and a glass of water. Aaron’s eyes flick from the medicine to Robert’s face – which is really, really close! – back to the pills. Painkillers, obviously, that Aaron literally can’t take himself, because right now he can’t take anything with his hands. Reluctantly he does as he’s being told, feeling slightly awkward as he parts his lips.

Robert quickly puts the pills on his tongue without actually touching him for which Aaron is grateful. “These are strong painkillers, I use them for my migraine, they should help quickly,“ he explains quietly, talking the awkward silence away.

The glass is being raised to his lips and Aaron has to crane his neck while Robert carefully tilts the glass. 

It‘s not like this isn‘t embarrassing as hell. 

But the weirdest thing is happening on Robert‘s face, because that smug expression is gone - huh, Aaron didn‘t even know this was a possibility - and now turned into something… soft? 

Using the words Robert and soft in one sentence. Aaron never thought he‘d see the day. 

One would think it can‘t get more awkward, but one would be wrong again. Because a moment later, Aaron is sitting again and Robert is kneeling in front of him, gently applying a cream on his injured palms. 

It burns like living hell, but Aaron is also massively distracted. Did he mention that Robert is kneeling in front of him? Aaron does his best to not let his mind get carried away with x-rated mental images, because Robert‘s face is literally on eye level with his crotch and those shorts Aaron is wearing are unable to hide anything! 

Talk about a whole new level of embarrassment!

He isn‘t keen on exploring how many levels he can master in one night.

“This is just a normal aloe cream. I don‘t have anything for burns,“ Robert says quietly, almost apologizing. 

He glances up with his green eyes through blond lashes and Aaron‘s breath hitches at how gorgeous he looks right now.

He snorts. “This is so bloody weird.“ 

His original plan was only to think that, but apparently his mouth betrayed him. 

“What is?“ Robert grabs a bandage from the first-aid-kit that‘s lying on the table and starts wrapping it around Aaron‘s right hand.

“You,“ Aaron clarifies, “not acting like a posh twat.“

He gets the stink-eye then, and Robert tugs a little harsher on the bandage when he puts tape on it, which makes Aaron flinch and hiss in pain. 

“You know, maybe it‘s just you treating me like I am one without even knowing me.“

Once again, Aaron feels anger rising inside him like bitter bile. “You mean, like you treat me like I‘m a thick-headed hick just because my name‘s Dingle and I own a scrapyard?“ he asks sharply. 

Robert looks at him and sighs. “Okay, look,“ he starts, starting to wrap up Aaron‘s left hand, “here‘s a suggestion. I think we both imagined the start into the new year a little differently, alright? But as it appears, we‘re stuck. Here in my humble abode. Together. So this can go two ways: either we avoid each other and spend the time mostly in our rooms like you did today, moping and fretting-”

“I was not moping and fretting!“ Aaron states and when Robert gives him the ‘don‘t be a brat‘ look, he rolls his eyes. “Go on then.“

“Or we bury the hatchet and try to make the best of it.“

Aaron just stares at him, thinking about the words. Urgh, he hates to admit that however a big moron Robert Sugden is, he kinda has a point. 

“Fine,“ he mutters with the most grumpy undertone he can muster, just to emphasize that he‘s really biting the bullet. 

Robert gives him a small smile that does not make his belly tingle. At all. Aaron focuses on his hands instead. The painkillers are finally working and the cream is soothing, so the throbbing ache is now reduced to a dull burn and itch. 

He lifts them after Robert is finished, only to see his hands wrapped up like giant mittens.

“Oh, you gotta be fucking kidding me!“

 

 

There is something more embarrassing than Robert letting him drink.

Namely Robert feeding him scrambled eggs 15 minutes later. With a spoon.

He tells a protesting Aaron that he only needs to wear the bandages until tomorrow, but he‘s cackling like a massive idiot, obviously enjoying the whole thing too much. 

Yeah, Robert may be nice now, but he‘s still a jerk.

 

Chapter Text

Okay, so his hands are better the next morning, still red and burning and itchy, but definitely better. 

Robert insists, after he takes the bandages off, on applying more aloe and Aaron doesn‘t stop him from doing so. 

It‘s weirdly intimate. 

How Robert‘s fingers are softly rubbing the cream into Aaron‘s skin. Robert’s long, long fingers. Sure, he’s an idiot no matter what, but an idiot with nice hands and a gentle touch, and Aaron imagines them touching other parts of his body as well. Hidden parts of his body. He can’t help it. 

There is admittedly some unresolved sexual tension, maybe Adam was right after all.

But what Adam definitely got wrong was that Robert might feel the same. The Sugden offspring made it very clear in the past what he thought of Aaron - that he is thick and basically just a thug from a pathetic clan of small-time criminals. 

So, if anything that sexual tension is just a one-sided affair and no matter what Aaron is imagining, it will never be more than just a fantasy. 

A fantasy that doesn’t hurt anyone though.

“Breakfast?” Robert asks when he is satisfied with his medical treatment. He gets up from the couch they’d been sitting on.

Aaron’s stomach grumbles in response and the other man chuckles. The satisfaction of the midnight dinner didn’t last long. Robert caring so much about him and looking after him with his hands and the painkillers and the eggs after the ongoing conflict they’d had is just really strange and makes him feel uncomfortable. Like he’s indebted to Robert or something like that.  

“I guess, I could eat something. But I can do it this time,” he offers.

Robert slowly raises his eyebrows, the corners of his mouth twitching as if he’s suppressing a laugh.

“What? I can do a mean fry up,” Aaron mutters defensively. 

Robert hums at that. “Hm-mh. Not gonna let you do anything in my kitchen again, I’m not crazy.”

The thing is, normally he would have spit out that sentence with a venomous sneer, but now Robert isn’t wearing his smug smirk, he is smiling. And it’s sincere. Honestly, this is absolutely putting Aaron off. Robert really is taking this ‘burying the hatchet’ thing seriously! And since he’s making an effort, Aaron reckons he should do the same. 

“Look. Again, I’m sorry about last night. If I… uh… scared you.” That carpet in the living room is suddenly very interesting to look at and Aaron scratches his eyebrow. “Vic told me about, you know, … that you don‘t like… fire.“ He feels wooden and awkward, stuttering out the words like an idiot. 

 “Well, only fucked up psychos like fire,” Robert says sharply, before he sighs and deflates. “It’s alright. Honestly,” he adds, softer now. “It’s true, errm, I don’t do well with open flames. After my mum… I started researching fires a lot and how to extinguish them. I got a bit obsessed with it to be honest, but I kinda needed to feel prepared in case something happens… if that makes any sense. That’s why you’ll find a fire extinguisher in every room. In the living room are two, actually.” Robert laughs, but it sounds a bit nervous. 

And yes, Aaron did notice that. He shifts on his feet and lifts his eyes. “Glad you have them. I’d have seriously fucked it up.”

Robert looks at him with his huge green eyes and in the bright morning light reflecting on the snow and shining through the windows he suddenly looks very young with his unstyled hair and his plaid pajamas. “When I saw the burning pan, I knew exactly what to do. I still hate fire, but I’m not scared of it anymore.”

Aaron nods at that, somewhat surprised how easily Robert shared that bit of his past with him. The blond man clasps his hands and rubs them.

“So… breakfast? What do you like?” 

“Uh… toast.”

Robert’s expression switches into something pained and now he looks constipated.

“What?” Aaron wants to know.

“I’m biting my tongue.”

“Why are you biting your tongue?” he frowns. 

“Because I’m not allowed to make any remarks about you being a Dingle anymore since we called a truce.” Robert starts walking towards the kitchen, but after only three steps he turns around. “Okay, like, God! You have awful taste! But it’s probably inherited, since you’re a Dingle and just look at Mandy’s hideous clothes or your mother’s terrible choice in men. Clearly bad taste is running in the Dingle blood.” His face lights up in relief. “Aw, it felt good saying that. Sorry, couldn’t hold it back.” He smirks and hurries into the kitchen.

Well, Mandy’s wardrobe consists of 90 percent leopard print and his mum admittedly has a bad track record with her partners, so yeah, Robert kinda - maybe - has a point there. Still, toast is awesome and just because it’s too mundane for Robert’s sophisticated taste buds, doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. Aaron rolls his eyes when he follows him. 

“You’re a jerk,” Aaron informs him just in case he forgot, but he says it without any heat.

In fact he’s even smiling a little. 

 

 

“And? Did you bone him already?” Adam says in lieu of greeting. 

“I’m ending this call. I’m ending it. Bye.”

“Ah c’mon Aaron, don’t be such a grump,” Adam laughs into his ear. 

Aaron is lying on his bed again, the phone tucked between his head and the pillow since he’s still trying to avoid using his hands as much as possible. He stares outside where there is still snow falling. Everything is buried under the white mass, it must be over a meter now. 

“So, tell me,” Adam demands, “how is it with Sugden? I mean, you’re still alive, can’t be that bad, right?” Another cackle. 

Why is he even friends with Adam? Aaron should strongly question his choice of company. “Why would you assume he’d kill me? If anyone needs killing in this scenario it’s him! I’m the normal one, he is the arrogant tosser,” Aaron says grumpily. 

“Yeah, you’re a ray of sunshine,” Adam says sweetly and his face-splitting grin is very audible. 

“And you’re horrible.” There is a short silence after that and then Aaron admits quietly: “I nearly burnt down the kitchen.” 

“You what?” Adam screeches. “Are you shitting me? What happened?”

Aaron gives him a short summary of last night's events, but leaves out the details, especially of Robert being half naked and all soft and caring. His best friend doesn’t need to know everything, he decides. 

“Oh man.” A woosh is coming out of the speaker as Adam blows out air. “Man, when I said kindle the sparks I didn’t mean for you to bloody flare up the cabin.”

“Ha. Ha. You’re so fucking funny,” Aaron says deadpan.

Adam snickers, before he gets serious again. “But you’re okay?”

“Yeah. Got burnt a bit, but Robert put some cream on.” 

“Huh. Is that, like, a euphemism?” Adam is laughing again, because he’s always laughing. “You dirty dogs, you!”

“I’m hanging up,” Aaron mutters and closes his eyes. “Why am I even talking to you at all?” 

“Because you love me and it’s New Year’s Eve and you miss me like crazy!” Adam sing-songs confidently. 

Aaron sighs, but he smiles nevertheless. It turns sad though when he remembers another thing. “You won’t probably love me so much anymore in a second… I told Robert we don’t need his money.”

“Mate! You didn’t!” Adam sounds upset. “But we do need his money! Unless you decided-”

“Not gonna happen, Adam. I won’t touch his money.” Aaron is stubborn like this. Dingle and all. 

“Fine.” His friend huffs. “Okay. We’ll figure out something new.” As much as Adam is a pain in the arse most of the time, he understands this is a sore subject for Aaron - he might not get the full extent of Aaron’s feelings when it comes to Gordon, but he accepts it. And Aaron is grateful for that, but he also feels guilty. The yard is Adam’s baby as well and of course he wants it to be doing well, especially since he and Vic are trying for a real baby, too. Providing for his family is what drives Adam and it’s basically Aaron’s fault that their business is struggling although the solution would be easy. 

“I’ll figure something out,” he promises, “Don’t worry, Adam.”

After Robert showed his other side last night, he honestly considers taking the offer. At least the investment would stay in the family and a successful business is also in Robert’s interest since his sister would benefit from it. 

A knock on his door startles him. 

“Aaron, I’m making mozzarella sticks,” Robert says loudly on the other side of the door.

“O-kay?” He’s not sure how to properly react to this statement. Nice-Robert is still so damn weird and unsettling.

“I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

He listens to Robert walking away and hears him whistling something, but Aaron can’t make out the song. 

“Hey, gotta go,” he says to Adam, “We’re having cheese sticks for lunch.” Aaron pauses and rolls his eyes. “And no, that’s not a euphemism.”

Adam giggles into his phone. “Aw, you know me so well, hun.”

“That you’re basically on the same humour level as a 6 grader? Yeah, I know that,” Aaron says dryly. 

“Sooo, he’s cooking for you? You know the saying ‘the way to a man's heart is through his stomach’.”

“Stop it, Adam, seriously.” He groans. “Nothing’s going on between Sugden and me.”

His friends just hums meaningfully. “Uh-huh. If you say so.”

“If you’re so obsessed with him, you should go for him yourself,” Aaron says grumpily. “Sugden isn’t interested in me anyway. He made that perfectly clear in the past.”

There is a little silence after that and too late he notices that Adam could take that sentence as a confirmation that there might be interest from Aaron’s side. Just when he opens his mouth to state that this is, in fact, not the case, not at all, Adam speaks up first.

“God damnit, you’re both idiots.”

The line clicks and goes silent. His friend just hung up on him after insulting him. Rude. 

 

 

When Robert said he’s gonna make mozzarella sticks, Aaron naively assumed he would open a packet from the freezer and throw them into the oven - bing, meal ready. 

But of course Robert Sugden actually makes them, with a breadcrumb coating and all. He also makes some fresh dips.

He has his sleeves rolled up to the elbow and the muscles are twitching as he stirs the tomato sauce and he’s wearing an apron and Aaron isn’t sure how to handle it, to be honest.

Especially since he is forced to stay put on the chair, not being allowed to touch anything in Robert’s sacred kitchen anymore and so all he can do is watch.  

“So,” he clears his throat awkwardly, “you like cooking?” 

It’s an innocent question to steer his brain away from the vivid imagination of fucking Robert Sugden into the next year right then and there. 

“Yeah, it’s relaxing, you know?” he replies without looking up.

Aaron does not know. His cooking skills cover toast, a fry up and pasta with warmed up ready-made sauce. Honestly, having a mum who runs a pub comes in handy on five days a week. 

“My mum loved cooking and I used to help her,” Robert goes on with a soft voice, “stirring the stuff, putting herbs in and that. After she died, I took over and cooked the family meals. Vic joined me after a while and look how that turned out: now she’s a chef and that’s all down to me introducing her to the wonderful world of taking random ingredients and creating something edible.” There is a bit of a smug undertone when Robert says that, but it’s more fond and proud than anything else. 

Aaron feels a tingling in his belly and he entirely blames it on the hunger. 

 

 

Two hours later they discover that it has finally stopped snowing and the sun is fighting bravely to break through the grey clouds. After spending more than 24 hours inside without a telly or video games, Aaron can’t wait to get outside or he’ll lose his mind. He puts some extra layers of his warmest clothes on and makes his way to the front door.

Excitedly he pushes the handle down and pulls it open.

There is a white wall.

A white wall of snow. 

Reaching up to his chin. His chin!

“Uh…” 

Up until now Aaron hasn’t realised they were actually snowed in. Sure, he saw the snow falling and all, but he had no idea how fucking high it is! Suddenly he is relieved his friends are safely in Emmerdale, because no way Vic and Adam would have made it with a car up here, even if the airport wouldn’t have gotten shut down. Aaron stares miserably at the snow and before he suffers a claustrophobic panic attack, Robert is beside him and pulls him out of his misery.  

“This is the side where the wind is blowing. Come on, it should be better in the back.”

‘The back’ is a roofed porch that Aaron hasn’t seen so far. On the right side is the jacuzzi that Adam mentioned on the phone yesterday. It’s covered with a white foil and powdered with a thin coat of snow. The roof prevented the worst out here, but where it’s ending the snow is rising like a mound. 

Suddenly feeling the urge to see further than a few feet, Aaron starts climbing up the pile, ignoring how deep he sinks in. Never ever has he seen so much snow in his life! He loves the gnash he’s making and the chilly air cooling down his face. Taking a deep inhale, he reaches the top and stops in his tracks. 

The valley is unfolding beneath him, surrounded by massive mountains and everything is just a white Winter Wonderland. There are other houses too, in the distance, only the roofs are visible under the snow and white smoke is slowly emerging through the chimneys. Right at that moment the afternoon sun comes out and the rays are causing the powder to sparkle brightly. It’s an absolutely breathtaking sight! 

And it’s absolutely quiet. No animals are around, no wind is blowing. It’s like the Earth went to sleep under a white blanket. 

Only then Aaron remembers that he isn’t alone, he came out with Robert and speaking of which - where is he? Aaron turns around and sees the other man still standing on the porch, wrapped in an insanely huge wintersuit and typing something on his phone. 

“Don’t you wanna come up?” Aaron asks.

“Hm?” Robert looks up and quickly tucks the phone away. “Nah, thanks. I’m good here.”

“But the view is amazing from here!”

“It’s just snow,” Robert frowns and shrugs. “I don’t like snow.” He sounds like a stubborn child.

Every reply dies on Aaron’s tongue and he just stares in disbelief at the other man in his ridiculous Michelin man suit. “Are you-... Are you shitting me? You bought a house…” Aaron gestures around, “in the French Alps and you don’t like snow?”

This is the most absurd thing he ever heard. At least Robert has the decency to look embarrassed. 

“Well, I like Spring and Summer!” he justifies. 

Aaron scoffs. Following an impulse, he bends down, grabs a handful of snow and quickly forms a ball. Without really aiming at Robert he just throws and watches how the snow hits the right shoulder and bursts into a little snow explosion right in Robert’s face. 

Green eyes are shooting invisible daggers back at Aaron and he feels a strange, giddy excitement raising in his belly. He reaches down again-

“Don’t you dare!” Robert shouts from the porch. 

-and forms another snowball. He’s not wearing gloves and the cold feels heavenly on his itching palms as it numbs the pain. Robert has barely time to hide behind the jacuzzi, because Aaron is firing the shot quickly. This time it only hits the puffed up jacket. 

“Aaron! That’s enough now!”

Aaron, however, quite frankly disagrees, because now there is no stopping anymore. He keeps throwing white bombs at Robert.

“Oi! A-Aaron! What are you? Ten? Hey! Stop it! I said, stop it!” Robert keeps screaming and trying to hide, before he finally decides he had enough and joins in. 

“You‘re gonna regret this, Dingle!“

It’s Aaron’s very first snowball fight and they’re both ambitious to score more often than the other. Chasing each other like that is hilarious and Aaron is laughing until his belly hurts, especially because Robert makes all those funny noises when he gets hit in the face. He really hates snow. 

They continue until they’re both out of breath and Aaron’s fingers are threatening to freeze off. He’s got snow in the neck of his jacket and it’s melting down his back. He’s sweating under his warm clothes and shivering at the same time, it’s gross and also absolutely amazing. Aaron never felt this kind of pure joy. He never laughed so hard before. 

With heaving chests and breathing like steam trains, they end up lying in the snow, facing the house. 

“So, tell me the story of why you bought this house. When Adam said we’re going to a cabin in the Alps, I thought of a tiny wooden cottage, but this is a bloody palace!”

Robert laughs at that. “Honestly?” Aaron turns his head to look at him and waits for him to go on. “I bought it to piss off my dad.” He’s laughing again, but it’s not a happy sound, not like he was laughing a few minutes ago. “He always mocked me, how I would throw my money out of the window, how I wasn’t able to save a penny for bad times. How it would bite me on the arse one day. So after I left the first big company I’d worked for, they gave me a nice compensation payment and I wondered what to do with it. Then a friend told me about this house and that it was on sale and I just bought it.” Robert stares at the cabin, but his eyes aren’t focused. 

“And? Was he pissed off?” Aaron asks quietly. He wasn’t expecting such a substory, really, and now he feels bad for asking in the first place. 

“Yeah. Massively.” Robert chuckles darkly. “Should have seen him, it was glorious.”

It was obvious that he had issues with his father and whatever happened between them must have been something serious. Vic doesn’t talk about Jack Sugden much and Aaron never had any reason or opportunity to interact much with the standoffish farmer, who died a few years ago. Now that he thinks about it, he notices that Robert started his Emmerdale visits only after his old man was buried. As far as Aaron remembers he didn’t even attend the funeral. 

“I still spend my money like I want. I’m not scared it might dry up one day. I know my value, people pay me good money because I’m worth it. Because I’m good.”

There is that arrogant attitude that Aaron knew from Robert again. This time though, he sees it for what it is. It’s a defence mechanism. It’s to keep people at arms length and Aaron supposes that's how Robert used to speak to his father as well. 

Another unspoken thing irks him. Robert emphasising that he doesn’t save up money is a clear jab in Aaron’s direction, isn’t it? Like he thinks Aaron should take Gordon’s money and put it into his business. 

Aaron bites his lip. It’s not like he hasn’t thought about the money in his bank account. The amount isn’t little and the numbers are screaming at him every time he makes a transaction. 

Suddenly Robert gets up, pulling him out his thoughts, and starts patting the snow off his clothes. 

“Okay, speaking of spending money. I bought champagne, lots of it, for midnight. But I suppose since it’s just the two of us we have more than enough, so I’m getting us a bottle.”

“You want champagne now?” Aaron frowns.

His freezing ears, nose and hands demanda hot cuppa rather than a glass of bubbly.

“Aaron,“ Robert smirks, “We‘re not going into the jacuzzi without champagne.“ Says the man matter-of-factly and disappears through the back door.

Aaron slowly sits up. “We‘re going into the jacuzzi?“

 

 

They are going into the jacuzzi.

Robert even gave him a pair of his swimming trunks. Although they are washed - hopefully, oh God! - it‘s still a bit weird wearing them. Especially when he thinks about where those shorts have been on Robert‘s bare skin!

And then the man is standing right in front of him, in some blue shorts, some very, very tight blue shorts and Aaron quickly thinks of his uncle Zak and Cain and Eric Pollard. Oh yeah, that is helping to prevent the situation going from weird to downright embarrassing! 

The jacuzzi is as warm as a bath and Aaron sinks down into the heat with a sigh. After the snowball fight it feels like liquid heaven. The downside though is the hot water burns like hell on his wounded hands, so Aaron has to rest his arms on the edge of the pool. Slowly but surely he‘s relaxing, feeling the tension seep out of his body.

Robert has even closed his eyes and lets his arms drift in the water. 

Aaron thinks about their conversation from earlier again and admires how Robert just goes for things, grabbing opportunities without overthinking, whereas Aaron obviously prefers to keep his own life complicated. 

“The money in my account,“ he hears himself say and Robert blinks his eyes open to look at him, “it was my dad‘s.“

Aaron stares intensely at the water surface and watches little waves and bubbles building caused by Robert sitting up. 

“I don‘t know, if you… if Vic told you…“ he stutters and he wonders if it ever will get easier.

He talked so much about it, to his mum and Paddy, to the police, his therapist, in court - hours and hours where he went through his abuse in all its horrifying details. But it doesn‘t get easier. 

“She mentioned something about a court case,“ Robert says and he sounds oddly soft.

“Yeah, I-… I don‘t wanna talk about it, really,” Aaron clears his throat, “but he‘s dead now and for some reason he left me all his money. I never asked for it and I don‘t want it anywhere near my business. I don‘t want it, period.“

“Okay.”

“That’s why we need an investor.” He’s not even sure why he’s explaining it to Robert. It’s not like he needs to justify his decisions to Vic’s brother, but somehow there was this need to get it off his chest. 

“Okay.”

He finally looks up and Robert’s face wears this gentle and understanding expression again. And maybe he does understand it to some degree, given his own relationship to his father. 

“Let’s make another deal, since the first one worked out quite well so far,” Robert starts and Aaron smiles a little, “Let’s not talk about our dad’s while we’re here. We’re here to celebrate the new year. Tonight’s about the future and our father’s are in the past. So I say, fuck them.” 

Robert raises his glass and gives Aaron an encouraging smile. Well, surprisingly this is another suggestion that makes a lot of sense. Aaron definitely can see why Robert is such a successful businessman.

Goddamnit. Smug, beautiful idiot, he adds in his head just for good measure and smiles back. 

“To the future,” he agrees and they clink glasses. 

Aaron’s never been much of a fan of the whole new year circus. When he was younger it barely held any meaning - he just knew the upcoming year would be just as shitty as the past one. Since he moved to Emmerdale he felt a bit more festive, especially as the friendship with Adam grew and they founded Holey Scrap. 

This year was another story though. 2016 has been… intense, although the word doesn’t quite hit the point. He faced his past and his demon and he managed to lock both away. And with Gordon being dead, Aaron doesn’t need to be scared anymore. He’s free. 

Robert is right, fuck the past. This is about the future. And for the first time Aaron truly feels excited about what it may hold for him. 

 

 

When they leave the hot tub, the sun is already setting. All in all it was a good last day of the year, Aaron thinks and the most positive surprise was how well he gets on with Robert. Once they both pushed their prejudices aside, it went really smooth between them. Who would have thought? Clearly not Aaron. 

Adam, maybe. 

Aaron just put on his clothes - seriously, you only realise how often you need your hands when you can’t use them properly anymore - and now he grabs his phone to type a quick message to his friend.

 

have a good evening mate

r u going to the pub?

 

yeah Vic made me buy a last minute costume in that tacky shop in Hotten

 

lol what is it?

 

she wanted matching outfits

I bought Olaf the snowman bc I thought she’s the bird from frozen

but she says she’s cinderella and now she’s pissed off I’m not prince charming

 

 an idiot thats what u r

have fun

give vic a hug from me

 

will do, brother. love you

 

luv u too, boo

 

Aaron tucks the phone in his back pocket and leaves his room to make his way to the kitchen. He hears Robert already pottering about and smiles. It’s nice getting to know someone in such a domestic way, far away from Aaron’s everyday life in Emmerdale. 

Sure, Robert still displayed his cocky attitude, but it’s more in a playful and self-confident way than the mean and arrogant streak he showed before. 

“Are you-... wearing a suit?” Aaron frowns, stopping dead in his tracks on the threshold at the sight of the other man.

Because, seriously, Robert Sugden is wearing a suit. In his own house. For cooking.

“I like looking smart,” he says with a casual shrug and keeps pulling out pots and pans and bowls.

Aaron looks down on himself. He’s wearing a black jeans and a plain black jumper. “Well, cheers for that. Now I feel underdressed,” he mutters.

Robert gives him a slow once over that makes Aaron’s belly tingle with heat. A smile is tugging on the corners of Robert’s lips. “Looks good to me,” he smirks.

And oh. Oh. 

Robert flashes a smile at him and Aaron gets all hot and gooey and he wonders if the other man is flirting with him. Is this flirting? His heart flips and stutters and that heat intensifies and spreads through his whole body.

Robert thinks he looks good. 

Aaron quickly lowers his head to hide that grin that’s about to spread on his face no matter how much he tries to suppress it. He’s glad that Robert busies himself with the food preparation again, because it gives him time to calm himself down again. 

“Can I help you?” he offers and gets two raised eyebrows in response to it. “Alright, alright. Message received.”

He sits down on what somehow became ‘his’ chair by now and watches Robert cooking in his freaking blue suit, thinking that if someone would have predicted this situation only yesterday morning, Aaron would have declared them insane. He contemplates if this is the craziest New Year’s Eve he ever experienced… and he’s been to the parties in the Woolpack in previous years so that says a lot. 

What a difference a day makes. 

Then his eyes are aimlessly wandering around until they land on a bottle of eggnog on one of the top shelves. 

“Hey, you’ve got eggnog!”

“Yeah, I bought it for Vic. Her plan was to make a cake or something with it for tonight,” Robert explains over his shoulder without stopping to chop the onions. Aaron is impressed at how professional it looks - he would have definitely lost a fingertip by now. 

“Got a deal for you this time,” he says and gets up, “you’re making the food and so I’ll make us some drinks. How does that sound?”

That does make Robert pause for a moment. “At least you can’t burn my house down with liquids, I guess.” Jerk.

Aaron throws a dish towel at him and fetches everything he needs. Opening the bottles without his itching palms is a bit of a struggle, but he manages. A few minutes later he hands the goblet to Robert.

“Ta-daaa!”

“That looks like jizz,” Robert informs him after a critical look. 

Aaron scoffs. “Just suck it up then.”

His little attempt at boldness is rewarded with Robert’s reaction. The blond’s eyebrows are flying up to the hairline and the trademark smirk is back on the freckled face. He puts his knife down and takes the glass. “What is this?” He sniffs the drink.

“It’s a Dingle cocktail that I’ve slightly modified due to the lack of some ingredients,” Aaron declares not without pride.

The smirk slips off Robert’s face and he wrinkles his nose in disgust. “Ew. I don’t know what terrifies me more. The part where you said ‘Dingle cocktail’ or that you ‘modified’ it.”

“Shut up, arsehole.” Aaron holds his glass up to clink it, because it’s a thing between them now - that playful banter. Only yesterday they wanted to strangle each other in the living room, but today they’re cool. “It’s called a snowball. Isn’t that fitting after you lost that fight earlier so badly?”

“Excusez-moi!” Robert touches his chest dramatically before he points at Aaron. “You lost!”

“If you wanna tell yourself that for your good night’s sleep then I’m fine with it, you know,” he offers, fighting back a grin. 

Robert’s eyes are sparkling and it’s obvious that he is enjoying this just as much as Aaron. “How generous,” he says sweetly.

“That’s my middle name.”

“Interesting. Always thought it’s ‘Dimwit’.”

“Nah, that was the dwarf in Lord Of The Rings.”

Robert throws his head back and laughs. It’s a lovely sound, deep and loud. And Aaron watches his Adam’s Apple bobbing up and down and suddenly he needs to kiss Robert right there under his jawline, where his skin must be warm and soft…

They’re drinking and Aaron sucks the cocktail greedily through his straw and hopes it might cool his heated thoughts off. 

“Okay…” Robert stares at the glass and smacks his lips, “not bad, I guess.”

Which means it tastes amazing in Smugden language that Aaron is slowly beginning to learn. He fondly rolls his eyes. Robert turns around to the kitchen counter to continue his food preparation, but then he pauses and looks at Aaron warily. 

“Hey, uh… you know the name of the dwarf in Lord Of The Rings, right? Otherwise I’ll have to kick you out of this house.”

Aaron scoffs. “It’s Gimli.”

“Good! You passed!” Robert smiles at him brightly and Aaron’s body is doing its weird tingling sensation thing again. “I’m glad you’re staying.” Eventually he gets back to chopping after that.

“Yeah. Me too,” Aaron whispers into his glass for no one to hear before he downs it.

 

 

Robert Sugden is officially insane. That in itself isn’t surprising, really, but seeing the proof of it is. He cooked dinner for a whole football team. 

“Oh my…” Aaron stares at the little bowls and plates on the table with different finger foods, the giant piece of stewed lamb in the middle and the grilled salmon next to it. He also knows that there is dessert in the fridge. “Who is supposed to eat all this?!”

“I thought you Dingles eat whole pigs every weekend,” Robert says unfazed as ever and pours wine into their glasses.

He just can’t let go of the pointed Dingle remarks, not even now they are in some weird pre-stage of maybe-mates. At least his whole attitude isn’t venomous anymore. 

“What’s all this?” he asks, deciding not to bite this time, when he takes his seat on the large dining table between kitchen and living room. 

“So, we have garlic mashed potatoes here, tomatoes stuffed with feta, this is a salad with goat cheese, balsamic bacon Brussel Sprouts, bacon wrapped jalapenos and a classic Italian bruschetta.” He points at the food he lists off. 

Aaron’s face lights up at the last one. “Ah, toast. Nice!”

Aaaand Robert’s face falls. “You…! You are the worst.” He plonks on his chair. 

“Nah, you have a lead over me for that title.” He winks at the blond man and starts piling the bruschetta on his plate. It feels good now, being himself, in Robert’s presence. Easy. 

“Since when are you feeling all funny?” 

“Please. I’m hilarious,” Aaron declares in earnest. “I’m stuck to the Dingle clan and working scrap - sarcasm is the only thing that keeps me going.”

“Hey, why are you allowed to make such comments and I’m not?” Robert asks miffed while he’s cutting the meat. “Unfair.”

Aaron glances up at him through his eyelashes. Robert is such a man-child sometimes and it’s…cute. It’s just, yeah. Adorable. And God, does he look incredible in his suit in the softly dimmed light of the dining area. 

“Cause it’s my family,” he replies easily. “And I earned the right to make jokes about them by drinking from the wellie.”

“The… err… what?” Robert stares at him like he grew a second head.

“It’s a traditional thing. When I gave up my last name and changed it into Dingle, we had a little family gathering. And then I had to drink ale from a wellie.”

Robert’s facial muscles are working then, different emotions are showing and eventually he looks like he’s either severely constipated or holding back a laugh. It’s hard to tell. 

“Are you biting your tongue again?” Aaron asks him and when he only gets a nod in return, he grins. “C’mon, eat your Brussel Sprouts and don’t be a brat.”

Robert mutters something under his breath, but he does as he’s been told. 

 

 

“Oh God, I think I’m dying,” Aaron groans and leans back on his chair. 

His belly is so full, it hurts! He never ate so much, ever. Hell, probably no one ate so much ever. They just finished their meal and it’s quite remarkable how much less food is remaining on the table considering the masses that had been there an hour ago. 

“I forbid that. I don’t wanna be stuck with your stupid dead body, that’s depressing.”

“Cheers.” Aaron nods. “Gimme me some hard liquor then.”

He doubts it will help the digestion, but at least it’ll numb his mind. While Robert gets them both a glass of Jagermeister, Aaron stares at the dirty dishes. 

Dinner has truly been fantastic. Some of the stuff Aaron had for the first time, like the goat cheese, and he loved it all. Robert really outdid himself in the kitchen today.

“You know, that was excellent,” he tells Robert when he comes back with the herb liquor. “Not gonna lie, I would have been happy with just a bit of toast as well…” Robert chuckles and shakes his head. “... but this really was top-notch.”

“Thanks, glad to hear that.”

“Have you ever thought of doing this professionally? As a chef, like Vic?”

“I did, yeah. But working in a kitchen is utter madness and I’d rather keep it as a hobby, you know. I just want to enjoy it when I do it. Besides, I love my job.”

Aaron nods along until Robert’s finished, then he frowns. What even is Robert’s job? He certainly never asked when he still hated the guy and Vic didn’t mention it either. When he tells Robert as much, the other man laughs. 

God, that laugh though. 

“I’m investing in promising startups, helping make them big and then profit from their success, sometimes I’m helping to sell them for good money to bigger fish. So, when Adam asked me for an investment, it was basically just what I do for a living anyway.”

“Do you snoop on their bank accounts as well?” Aaron asks dryly before he can stop himself. 

That still seriously bothers him. He kind of understands where Robert was coming from, but it feels wrong. And it’s even more annoying that Aaron obviously can’t trust the guys from the bank. 

Robert goes silent for a moment and then he says softly: “I’m really sorry, Aaron. It was a dick move. I don’t know what else to say.”

Aaron looks at him and then he makes a decision. “Just let's forget it. You said it, fuck the past. So we leave it there and move on.” He raises his liquor. “Cheers.”

“To moving on,” Robert agrees and smiles. 

The Jagermeister burns down his throat to his stomach and it’s nice. He’s feeling tipsy already and it’s still a few hours until midnight. 

“Where do you see yourself in… let’s say five years?” Robert wants to know.

The question makes him chuckle and he scratches his beard to gain some time. Eventually he just shrugs and blows out a long breath. “Dunno. I don’t make plans that long ahead to be honest. I mean, five years ago, I was struggling to figure out living that ‘gay life’. I suffered from anxiety and I was angry all the time and did some stuff I’m really not proud of. And look at me now: I’m running my own business and I’m sitting in a mansion in the French Alps, slurping champagne on New Year’s Eve.” Robert gives him one of his soft smiles. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, I’m just trying to live every day as best as I can, I guess.”

Robert lowers his green eyes, plays with his glass and stays quiet for a while. Aaron watches him closely but it’s hard to read his expression. He’d bet his arse on Robert having very detailed ideas about his future. Business plans and maybe even a private bucket list. Which is nothing bad per se and if that works for him then it’s fine, awesome even. It just doesn’t work for Aaron. He waits patiently for Robert to contribute his plans to the conversation, but the other man surprises him by standing up suddenly.

“I’ll do the dishes.” Is it just Aaron’s imagination or does his voice sound a bit rough? “You just stay here and relax, with your hands and all.”

It’s pretty nice of him to be so considerate and although Aaron is a lazy bum, he feels guilty enough already. Robert did all the cooking and preparation, so of course he gets up to help as far as he can. His skin is much better anyway, after using the aloe lotion every few hours and the snowball fight. Besides, moving a bit is just what he needs after that feast.

Robert is quieter now, deep in thoughts and Aaron wonders if he said something wrong. His old insecurities are showing again and he hates it, but he can’t do anything about it either. 

 

 

They are almost finished with the clean up when it happens.

There is a noise like a click and then suddenly everything goes pitch black. The rational part of his brain tells him that it's just a power cut, that there is a simple explanation for the fact that he’s suddenly surrounded by darkness.

>>>

But he is surrounded by darkness and he hates that, hates when he can’t see the things around him. The people around him. He takes a shaky step to the front, feeling clumsy and vulnerable, unprepared, just like…

Aaron is eight years old again and this shouldn’t be happening. This is wrong, everything about this is so wrong and he knows what’s coming next, but he can’t go through that again, he can’t, he won’t-

Someone’s touching his arm. The world tilts to an impossible angle and he feels like being in free fall. The monster is back.

Aaron swings his arm like a reflex, without thinking, every bloody cell in his body alert.

He hits something.

Someone. Good. Stay away. 

Stumbling backwards, he trips over an item and nearly loses his footing. Aaron wants to shout, but he can’t because there is no air left in his lungs to do so. That’s bad, there should be air, he’s breathing so there should be air! His chest is tight and hurting and everything feels so goddamn wrong!  

“Ron.”

He hears a voice, but it’s muffled, like he’s underwater.

“Aaron.”

Suddenly the torch of a phone lights up the room and Aaron blinks around, stunned. This isn’t his childhood bedroom. Where the closet should be is a fridge instead and all the colours aren’t as they are supposed to be. 

“Breathe.”

A face is appearing in his line of sight, with green eyes and freckles and soft lips… and blood. 

“Aaron, breathe.” 

He doesn’t understand. Isn’t he breathing? What’s wrong with his breathing? 

His brain takes an awfully long time to catch up and process the situation. Slowly, very slowly he’s surfacing to the present.

“It’s okay, you’re alright. Breathe.”

He doesn’t feel alright. His heart hurts and he’s clutching his chest. It feels like he’s having a heart attack, but Aaron knows what this is. 

“You with me again?” Robert asks and he nods shakily. “Breathe with me.”

Again it takes time until his chest can expand to a normal level again. Aaron doesn’t know how long, maybe minutes, but it feels like a small eternity. And while he’s still struggling to get his pulse and respiration back under control, he looks at Robert and he takes him in, his soothing voice, that worry in his eyes and that cut on his lip. Aaron stares at the trickle of blood that is running down his chin and that was him, wasn’t it?

<<<

Aaron lashed out and he hit Robert. In his blind panic he hit Robert.

He lowers his gaze, guilt and shame replacing panic and terror. God, what has he done? 

Hitting Robert, only because the power went out! What must the other man think of him now? When all he had to do was take out his own phone and switch it on. Easy! 

Robert used to make fun of him and call him stupid on various occassions, but now Aaron actually, truly feels stupid, so, so stupid.  

He gets gently steered out of the kitchen to the living room by warm hands on his shoulders and Aaron just lets it happen, not having it in him to protest. It’s much brighter here, because of the pale moonlight that is reflected by the snow and shining through the windows and Aaron sees the couch and furniture that is familiar to him now and he knows he’s safe. 

It’s a relief.

“I’ll check the fuse, okay? Maybe I can fix this quickly,” Robert tells him. “Are you alright?”

He’s not, but Aaron nods anyway. Feeling already like a liability is bad enough. He can’t even look Robert in the eyes right now. 

“Have you got your phone with you?” Another nod. “Then take it out and switch the light on, I’ll be back in sec.”

If he only did that straight away then they’d still be in the kitchen, probably joking about the whole situation, Aaron thinks miserably as he sinks on the couch. Now he ruined everything. After a few minutes that help him to fully calm down, Robert comes back.

“Sorry, it’s nothing that I can fix here. Maybe a power pole or something got damaged with all the snow we had, I don’t know.”

So they had no electricity, meaning no light. Or no power to charge their phones. One look at his display and he sees he’s got only 25% battery left. They’d be sitting in the dark soon. Aaron’s heart beat is speeding up again, it’s nothing he can control no matter how much he tells himself that it is irrational. 

Fear of the dark is a thing for six-year-olds, not for a grown up man. 

“Okay,” he says as if he isn’t affected by that. Or at least he hopes Robert won’t notice that he is, in fact, affected by that. 

“It’s a good thing I chopped wood before you arrived. Come on, help me light up the fireplace,” Robert says and smiles.

Aaron frowns at him, but he gets up in slow motion. “A fire? Are you okay with that?”

“Aaron. I told you, I’m not scared of open flames anymore,” Robert reinforces what he said this morning. “Besides, I have two fire extinguishers here and a bucket of water. It’s safe.” 

Ten minutes later, small flames are climbing eagerly on the sides of the logs and the living room is illuminated by soft, yellow light. For some reason they end up sitting on the floor instead of the couch. Aaron, for his part, does like the warmth on his skin a lot. It’s cosy.

He looks at Robert again and sees that his lip got worse, it’s swollen now as well. 

“I’m so sorry,” he’s pressing out. “I’m so… Sorry, Robert.” 

For a second the other man looks at him adorably confused, but then notices Aaron’s eyes on his lip. His expression softens, he touches the wound carefully and shrugs. “It’s not that bad.”

But Aaron knows that it must sting, because it’s a sensitive area. “Where have you got that first aid kit?”

He caused it, but maybe he can help make it better. It’s the least he can do. Fuck, first the fire in the kitchen and now this. Aaron wonders how quickly Robert will go back to hating him again after the streets are clear of snow and they are free to go. No need to keep that truce after that, is there?

The first aid kit is on one of the shelves, lying there since this morning when Robert did his hands. Aaron takes out a dabber, applies some disinfectant and turns to Robert. He starts carefully patting the wounded area and can’t help but feel a bit odd, since it’s the first time he’s doing that to someone else. 

Also he’s very well aware of the fact that Robert could do this himself easily, he doesn’t need Aaron to play nurse. But he lets him. 

The green eyes are huge and soft and flicking over Aaron’s face. 

It makes him feel hot all over. Damn, Robert is so intense. And so close. 

And Aaron wants to touch that jaw and that neck and pull Robert even closer and kiss his lip better. 

“I really am sorry,” he says quietly, simply because the silence got too intense suddenly. “I don’t like the dark.” He clears his throat awkwardly. 

Talk about the elephant in the room. They both know that ‘doesn’t like the dark’ doesn’t comes nearly close to what this was. A full blown panic attack. A burden of his childhood and a part of his trauma that might never go away. 

Even though Gordon is dead. He stays in his head. 

It’s honestly a devastating realisation, because Aaron did so well this year, he took those major steps and he felt better than ever. He hadn’t had a bloody panic attack in years. 

And all it took was a power cut. It’s pathetic. Bam, reality hitting him in his face.

Or, well. Hitting Robert in the face, so to speak.

“You don’t need to explain,” the man says with his voice ever so gently. “Seriously, it’s alright… besides, we said not to talk about our fathers, didn’t we?”

Aaron freezes mid tapping the blood off Robert’s chin. It’s a blind shot, it must be, because he can’t know about Gordon! Aaron hasn’t told him anything and neither has Vic and all he heard about was a court trial. 

“Yeah,” he whispers, barely audible. He can’t stand Robert’s look so he has to turn away. “All done.”

It’s so awkward between them. After the great day they spent together it’s a massive step back and Aaron would lie if he’d say he’s not disappointed about it. It went so well and now it’s gone to shit. 

“Soooo,” Robert drags the word until Aaron glances at him. The trademark smirk appears - something that would have normally triggered Aaron’s anger, but now surprisingly feels like a relief. “How do you feel about another Snowball?”

 

 

The Snowballs, Aaron finds out, are helping.

“What do you mean, the guy who plays Spiderman isn’t the same guy who played that one guy in the Hunger Games!” he shouts, upset. “Lies!”

He might be a teeny tiny bit drunk at that point. Robert groans and rubs his face in exasperation. 

“Spiderman is Tom Holland. The guy from the Hunger Games - I assume you mean Peeta Mellark - is played by Josh Hutcherson. Two different people.”

“They look the same!” Aaron insists stubbornly and pulls out his phone. 

He has to google this right now! They are sitting on the sofa, Aaron with a beer and Robert still sipping wine, and the atmosphere is playful again. The conversation about movies during the past hour did wonders to Aaron’s mood until they started talking about Spiderman. 

“Please, they’re both a bit vertically challenged but that’s about it,” Robert states and makes a ‘wipe away’ gesture as if to put that discussion to an end.

“Ha!” Aaron shouts triumphantly when he finds an article about those two actors and how they are basically twins. “Look! Look!” He shoves his phone in Robert’s face and the other man carefully pulls the arm away.

“No, Javier Bardem and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, they look like twins!” Robert points out.

“Aw, damn, yes they do! Always gets me so confused!” Aaron slaps his thigh and sighs. “Still. Tom and Josh, though…” He waves his phone.

“Nah, I don’t see it. But they’re definitely both hot pockets.” Aaron slowly raises his eyebrows and waits for Robert to elaborate: “Small but hot.” 

“You’re ridiculous.”

His phone vibrates in his hand with a message from Adam, who sent a picture of him and Vic with their costumes at the Woolpack. It makes Aaron laugh, like really laugh. He laughs until he’s wiping tears off his eyes and blames it on the alcohol. Oh boy, he’s definitely drunk.

He’s handing his phone to Robert who starts chuckling as well. Then the smile dies and his eyes widen as he stares at Aaron’s phone.

“Uh…” Robert says and he sounds a bit strained. “Did you bone Robert already?” he reads like a robot.

Aaron, who just took a big sip of his cocktail through the straw, starts coughing and spluttering. “I… W-What?” 

“Adam, uh, just wrote you a text.” Robert’s ears are turning red now and he looks genuinely flustered. “Sorry, I’ve read it.”

Aaron hastily grabs his phone, ignores his burned skin protesting in agony and pulls it close to his chest. Warily he checks the last message in their whatsapp chat.

 

Did you bone Robert already?

 

He’s gonna kill Adam. It’s definitely gonna happen. Maybe Cain will help him. Aaron’s always been Cain’s favourite after all. 

To save the situation somehow, he laughs, maybe a bit too loud, maybe a bit too hysterical. “Adam! Right?” he shakes his head and huffs. “He’s just… It’s just a joke. He’s obviously joking! Because… he’s so funny.”

Adam is the most unfunny, worst best friend ever! 

Somehow Robert isn’t laughing about that hilarious joke. “Is that…” he fiddles with the seam of his pants, “would that be something you’d want?”

Wait, what?

One second ago Aaron was still fake-laughing, now everything falls off his face. “Uuuhhh…”

And the answer is yes, yes of course he would. God, he so would. Look at the man, please and say who wouldn’t?! “I mean, we basically hate each other…” he says carefully, diplomatically and can’t help wondering how bizarre this whole situation is all of a sudden. 

Robert looks at him. “Yeah, we do.”

“And we just declared a truce…”

“Yeah, we did.” Robert is very close. Was he this close the whole time?

“And you’re still a posh twat, soooo…” Aaron’s eyes flick down to Robert’s mouth as he licks his lip.

“And you’re still a dumb Dingle…” His breath tickles Aaron’s face. 

“So, all things considered, I’d say boning is not on the table.” 

The fire is basking Robert’s freckled skin in a warm, yellow light and his green eyes are pastel bright. “And…” a tiny smirk appears, “what about the bed?”

Well, if he puts it like that? 

Aaron isn’t sure whether he kisses Robert first or if Robert kisses him and in the end it doesn’t matter. 

After a while, Robert pulls back and stares at him in awe. His cheeks are rosy and his eyes are dark with lust. “How about I extinguish the fire and we take this to the bedroom?”

“I always prefer safe sex.”

 

Chapter Text

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.