There was only one word floating in Aaron's mind, and it sounded a lot like finally.
The village hall was dark; there was just a little stream of streetlights coming through the window, just a little glow peeking into the room - attempting to find someone but it was hitting the floor beside them, not being able to satisfy its curiosity because they were standing out of its reach: they were standing against the back wall, Robert pressed up against Aaron, arms hooked around him, hands on his shoulders, mouth against his neck.
Breathing harshly, breathing Aaron in, breathing into him, taking his breath as he gave his own away.
They stood there, bodies entwined.
Standing in their own light made from a vacuum, standing in unspoken sworn secrecy.
Robert smelled of sweat and champagne, and there was that familiar scent – his scent, the one that Aaron was trying to block out because he couldn’t let it take him over.
He needed to draw a blank for a little while longer, a while that stopped him from forming thoughts.
Robert groaned, his hands demanding, his voice swimming in ardour.
The sound reminded Aaron of other dark and heavy nights, but those nights had been followed by days of light and air – the days that much like the scent of Robert were something he had to stop from flooding into his mind.
A burst of hot air swished against his ear, Robert letting out a whimper.
His grip was tight, almost too heavy, but Aaron needed it to be like that, he had to know that touching him was as incredible and painful to Robert as touching Robert was to him.
Touching Robert sounded a lot like finally.
Aaron grabbed the heavy curtain, his fists clutching into it, rage sparking from his hands onto its surface just when Robert’s fingers dug into his sides as he thrusted harder, the rages clashing, melting.
Aaron made a guttural sound; he knew he was being too loud, they both were but he didn’t care. Robert moved with haste and vehemence, but it was the same precision as always - he knew how to do it just right, he knew exactly how Aaron liked it.
Like only Robert still could.
They were sweaty and slippery, slipping against one another, but Aaron wouldn’t agree to slipping away, not yet.
He’d rather drag this out for all eternity.
Robert bit his shoulder, teeth sharp and harsh, leaving his moan amongst the indentations.
It turned Aaron on, feeling everything just as he’d felt before, realising that Robert remembered, remembered his body; it wasn’t the same body anymore, but Robert knew it like it was, and it became that body because it was Robert touching him, drawing his outlines back to where they were, melding him into a shape both of their hearts and hands recognised.
Robert was moaning, unadultarated and hoarse, grabbing onto Aaron tighter, silently screaming against his skin, the sounds piling on, growing, sliding through the sweat and the urge.
It dizzied him that Robert still wanted him in that precipitous, manic, screaming way, like his oxygen depended on the slide of their lips, circling around one another, opening and slipping in, everything gone hot and dark.
He felt the thrusts become faster; he swayed between pleasure and anguish – he knew Robert was close, already halfway through the fall, and he wanted nothing more than to watch him come, but he was terrified of losing the feel of him.
Aaron didn’t let himself think about it; instead he brought a hand upwards and slipped his fingers through the now a little longer sweaty hair, grabbed, and tugged hard, waiting to see Robert’s eyes close, waiting to hear a long, throaty groan; he wanted another affirmation that he could make it happen.
He tugged again, harder this time.
Robert’s eyes closed and he groaned.
Aaron wanted to cry, so relieved that he still knew all this, knew Robert’s body.
Aaron didn’t think about that; he just didn’t.
It was over much too soon; the motions sped up and they both came, loud and furious and filthy, the hurt lacing the pleasure, making it intensify as they thrashed about against one another, drawing out the cool down, the panic of silence taking over.
Aaron grabbed Robert, kissing him, just to feel him a while longer, to have him there, hidden from the light that wasn't their doing.
Robert took him back into his embrace, Aaron hoping he needed it just as much.
That Robert still needed him.
He couldn't look at the things he knew to be there, seeing the proof of things lost.
He couldn't bare to see the line of his jaw, the warm palms against his shoulders, the freckles he'd trace with his fingers on a Tuesday morning, stood in a kitchen, sleepy and yawning, alive and in love like it was a given.
Given could always be taken away.
He couldn't look at the eyes that had been the last to see him alive, eyes that put life back into him, whether he watched it happen or not.
So he kissed Robert, deeply and frantically, sleepy Tuesday mornings trickling from his own eyes in a heldback sob.
Robert’s harsh breathing faded as they pulled apart, turning into a rhythm that slipped away from Aaron’s orbit, retreating back into the unknown as his arms slid off, hands grabbing the clothes on the floor.
Aaron hated it.
He hated this; the fall back into a status quo neither of them wanted to live in, standing there in an aftermath that made them feel rusty and unrehearsed.
They pulled up their trousers, buttoned their shirts, not looking at one another as they walked out into the wind, walked on, walked side by side, knowing they’d soon be walking away.
They hadn’t seen one another properly yet; they hadn’t even glanced at each other properly.
It had all been just breaths and lips and limbs, endless skin, a mess emerging from random glow and flaring signs flickering in the night.
Going from nothing to that and now to this, like the proper cowards that they were.
Aaron didn’t know how Robert had ended up in the village, he didn’t know when.
He hadn’t had time to even form questions in his head.
To form thoughts.
He’d been stood at the cricket pavilion, tracing his fingers along the old proof of his lost years carved into the wood of the railings, sipping lager, staring into the darkening autumn night - sky pouring rain, Aaron pouring more beer, feeling the carvings, wanting to pour and carve things out of himself as everything turned into a blur upon hearing in passing that Robert was there.
Existing, coming to life.
Bursting into his life, the pain of Robert’s absence growing with the possibility of a presence.
Aaron hadn’t even made peace with his own presence there, having been there for only a few hours himself before he heard the news, feeling an ache and a thump that couldn’t announce itself.
First Aaron had gotten into his car, about to drive off but then he’d opted for the second worst thing; drinking himself daft.
There were many ways to scarper, and this was delightfully familiar in its stupidity, sitting in that place, repeating his stupidity from the lost years of a different sort.
Four cans’ worth of unsettling silence later, he’d grown bored of it and gone for a walk, walking about aimlessly, kicking the pebbles, eyes swimming, trying to force himself to go to sleep – but it didn’t work, it never did.
It never had.
He hadn’t slept properly in three years.
He had ended up on the bridge.
Why wouldn’t he?
Aaron still felt he didn’t know much about the life that happened around him, to him, never because of him – but he knew there was no such thing as just a place.
Stood there in a fading beer haze, an ache and a thump that couldn’t announce itself, one he couldn’t be rid of, he'd stared into the water, seeing nothing.
Then he’d heard footsteps and he just knew.
Leaning over the railing, not looking, not speaking as a figure stopped next to him, breathing shallowly and mirroring the things he couldn’t show or see, leaning over the railing, not looking, not speaking, the moon glaring over them relentlessly, hostilely, like it was disappointed in them.
A voice, that voice had whimpered with a sob much like his own and a hand had tugged at his arm as he’d turned - Aaron was pulled into an embrace, hands on his face, cold fingers digging into his cheeks, a mouth sliding against his.
He hadn’t had time to form thoughts.
It had all been just random glow and flaring signs flickering in the night.
Lamps they left switched off as they had stumbled their way through the streets, ending up at the hall for reasons unknown.
Switching themselves off.
Stood on the street again now, hopelessly silent, the neon sign above Robert’s being crackled, buzzed with a sigh, and gave up.
Aaron was grateful, watching the harsh light die, shuddering with the post-coital blue and the thoughts that couldn’t form.
Like the home they once had.
They walked again, rain and wind and a lot of autumn helping to undo the silence.
Robert’s pace accelerated, perhaps to get away.
It was one of those moments when one couldn't cry, simply because one wanted it too much.
All too much.
Robert walked tall, determined, like the old days.
Aaron wondered if his own walk had changed.
He couldn’t feel the spark zinging from Robert's direction anymore, the neon light in him dying too.
They stopped at the door of Keeper’s cottage; Aaron felt sorry for Robert staying there.
It wasn’t a surprise; for that Aaron was sorry the most.
These were just buildings, but as Aaron had learned, there was no such thing as just a place.
No matter how little of a significance one might want to give to it.
Robert blew out a breath, perhaps just to make the air move, to try and stirr the heavy quiet, one they couldn't break, one they feared whether it came or went.
He stood there with his hands in his pockets, wearing a new suit; it looked expensive.
It looked perfect.
There'd been a lot of buttons on that shirt, but now there were a few less; the lost buttons were laid out on the hall floor, possibly bathing in the curious light coming through the window.
Aaron hesitated towards him, not even stepping forward properly before he retreated, realising Robert had done the same, repeating their age-old withholding dance.
He didn’t have a plan, he didn’t have a speech this time.
This time was a concept that didn’t really exist, because there had been no time to form thoughts, only sundry emotions with an ache and a thump that couldn’t announce itself.
Aaron saw the light streaming through the window, clashing with the lights that had lit their blur of a night.
He felt the heaviness in the air, one that had never left.
He heard the keys in Robert’s hand jingling; the sound of an end.
He looked up, feeling Robert watching him; their eyes locked for a fleeting second before they retreated, the moon still glaring at their cowardice.
Aaron wanted to think there was a neon light of their own, flashing without crackling, bright and stubborn.
That'd teach the moon, daring to question it - even if Aaron himself was questioning, hesitating.
It wasn’t the time to hesitate, but it wasn’t the time to speak either.
They hadn’t spoken a single word yet; it had all been just random glow and flaring signs flickering in the night.
Breath, lips, limbs and endless skin.
Words tended to ruin everything, and this – this was something that didn’t need further ruining, not ever again.
Aaron didn't have to look at Robert to know that he was feeling the thump and the ache too.
He didn't have to look to know Robert was standing there, complicated and beautiful, reeling between rage and grief, shoving things aside to make room for this.
It was all still there.
Why wouldn't it be?
The village slumbered around them, indifferent and accusatory as ever.
Robert was sighing, like he always did when he was on the edge of surrender, and then he was taking the required two steps closer, grabbing Aaron, kissing him one more time.
Kissing him deep, running his fingers through his hair, painfully affectionate - establishing something that hadn’t had time to form, the warmth of his mouth stopping it from forming.
Breaths, lips, and things that glow in the night.
Maybe it was too much, but this time Aaron's eyes filled up, waters shuddering into the kiss, Robert shuddering along with him.
There was a safety - a piercing, hurtful kind of safety.
It hurt; a safety returning always did.
Robert pulled away, wiped at his cheeks and went inside without looking back; Aaron was as relieved as he was furious when he didn’t.
His limbs swung about restlessly; he didn’t know what they wanted him to do, because there was no more Robert to conquer them, and still no thoughts.
There was nothing to do now.
He couldn’t kick the door down, he couldn’t bang his fist on it, because this time he didn’t have a speech at the ready.
Tomorrow was a concept that didn’t really exist, because there would be no time to form thoughts.
But Aaron kept thinking about tomorrow, even if the thoughts weren’t really there; he already knew he wouldn't sleep, and he knew Robert wouldn't either.
And he knew one thing for sure, with an ache and a thump that was announcing itself now with absolute certainty.
Tomorrow he wouldn’t kick the door down or bang his fist on it either, but he'd knock.
Tomorrow he’d knock, and make Robert smile in the doorway.
He hadn’t had time to figure out how yet, but there was an insistent, headstrong voice in the back of his mind, telling him he’d know.
He’d make Robert smile, because it was all he wanted.
The nocturnal wind gushed, reminding him – probably about the glaring moon that he couldn’t listen to just yet.
Aaron zipped up his jacket and touched his lips, finding them sore and swollen was a relief.
The relief was painful; something returning always was.
He was about to take off just as he heard the voice of Adele coming from inside the house.
The most painful return of all, offering the biggest relief.
He touched the door gently, pressing his palm against it as his heart returned from its three-year silence, emerging with a thump and an ache that couldn't be ignored.
And Aaron didn't want to.
Then he took out his phone and his earbuds, clicking on the song.
He sped through the first few seconds, letting it play once it had caught up with the version coming through the door.
He walked towards the B&B, towards the sign that had lost its neon glare, given up and made room for the moon.
Aaron walked in the vast and the quiet, letting the music form the thoughts for him, with a thump and an ache that was now announcing itself through the melody.
Their melodies in synchronicity, much like the thoughts that were about to form.
It was a concept coming to life, the pain of Robert’s absence decreasing with the possibility of a presence.
A presence that was now a fact, flashing its neon of the unresolved, and Aaron would be going towards it, going to see it light up, seeing something that looked a lot like finally.
That's where Aaron was going, wherever it might be.
Why wouldn't he?
Going endlessly, going to the ends of the earth for it, just to see Robert smile.