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& we, too, were ghosts

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Paddy was nice. Aaron was nice.

The house was nice. It had a big garden and a nice dog.

 

Liv was quietly miserable, but that was to be expected. Liv couldn't speak German, and Paddy and Aaron were both great but they had their own relationship of which she was not part, and she sort of missed Emmerdale, and also Gordon was still dead and she still didn't know how to feel about it.

Aaron was illegally teaching her to drive, though. That was fun, when they didn’t start screaming at each other for no reason.

And Paddy was really, really nice. Paddy was just as nice as Aaron had said. Paddy was nice and brought baby animals home and taught Liv to bottle-feed them, and he let Liv come to the surgery and help out, which was really cool. But he didn’t know her, really, not yet. Aaron trusted him, and so Liv trusted him, but there was a difference between knowing you could trust someone and actually doing it.

 

Liv kept having nightmares. Aaron was having them, too, but his were different, and he didn’t want to tell her about them. But he still wanted her to tell him about hers, and she couldn’t help thinking that wasn’t fair to him.

And Aaron was the best person -  the kindest, the strongest, with the best heart - but it was still hard to come right out and say things.

 

-

 

On the third day in Frankfurt, Liv went to take the dog - Maisy - out for a walk. She put on a windbreaker and a scarf because Aaron was now manifesting his emotions in the form of worrying that she’d catch cold and then be taken away from his unfit guardianship and put into care. There was a whole elaborate nightmare scenario that he broke out when he got nervous, which was often. She opened the door, and then she said, “Fuck,” and unclipped Maisy’s leash and sent her back into the house.

“Hi,” said Gabby Thomas. Her hair was in a ponytail and she had on an enormous backpack and a very expensive-looking leather jacket. Her lips were very red: the red of tulips, and candy.

“What are you doing here?” Liv hissed.

“I booked a plane ticket and then I took a taxi,” Gabby said. “It's not that hard, Jake does it every five minutes. Pretty expensive, at the last minute, but I guess Mum married well this time so it should be all right.”

“Your mum is going to lose it,” Liv said flatly. “Your dad is going to lose it.” She was getting better; she could say the word 'Dad' without bursting into tears. (Mostly. Sometimes she just laughed, hysterically, and that wasn’t a whole lot better.)

Gabby flinched. “I can turn around and go home if you want,” she said. “I just thought you might miss me. But I guess that was my mistake.”

“No,” Liv said, sighing, because horrifically Gabby Thomas was the best friend she had ever had. “Of course I want you here. Of course I miss you.”

Gabby bit her lip and reached out for Liv. “I'm really, really sorry about your dad,” she said. “I really am. Not - that he’s dead, because he was awful, but because he was your dad, and-”

Liv shook her head, stepped back. “I really don't want to talk about it,” she said.  

“Yeah,” Gabby said. “Yeah, of course.”

 

“Gabby's here,” Aaron said, dubiously. “Gabby Thomas? Is here.” His voice was doing that wavering thing it did - down and up and down again. And he had on his confused scowl, which was different from the angry scowl and the sad scowl.

“Hi, Aaron,” Gabby said, sticking her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “I promise I’ll stay out of your way. I just really needed to check on Liv.” She sounded surprisingly sincere. Liv had not known Gabby for all that long but she did know what liars sounded like and Gabby was mostly full of shit. (It wasn't a bad thing, as long as you knew it, and could account for it in your actions and trust level.) Not now, though.

“I've got to call your mum,” Aaron said. “You know that I've got to call your mum, and we've got to get you on the next flight home.”

“She's gonna yell,” Gabby said, chewing her lip. “I left a note, though.”

“I can-” Paddy offered.

“It’s fine,” Aaron said, shaking his head. “It’s Bernice, we know each other. Besides, she can’t really make my week any worse, can she?”

 

While Aaron went and did that, Gabby and Liv went to sit on Liv's bed in the spare room that Liv was sharing with Maisy the injured border collie. (She had broken her paw falling down the stairs and her owners had been about to cancel their vacation until Paddy had volunteered to take her; she was about the sweetest animal Liv had ever met.)

Gabby tore at the skin around her fingernails. “I just needed to make sure you were okay,” she said quietly. “It's not exactly normal, is it, driving for eleven hours in the middle of the night?”

“Gabby,” Liv said, momentarily startled by the steel in her own voice. “You need to stop talking right now.”

“I’m sorry!” Gabby said. “I’m sorry.” She looked down at her hands. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Yeah, you did,” Liv said. “He’s my brother, Gabby. I love him.” She exhaled, through her teeth. “Why are you here, Gabby?”

“I care about you,” Gabby said, and that was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth, and they both knew it.

Liv stared at Gabby and Gabby stared back.

Gabby cracked first. “My dad's dying,” she said. “I don't know. It's selfish. I just - I wanted to know, I guess. That things would be okay. That you would be okay.”

Liv was furious for a moment; the anger crashed like a wave over her, and passed. “Gabby,” she said tightly.

“I’m sorry,” Gabby said, wincing. “I’m sorry, okay.”

“You want to be careful with that word,” Liv said. “You're going to wear it out.” Chas had told her that. She sort of missed Chas. She called her mum every night but Chas she hadn’t spoken to since before they left - but as far as she could tell neither had Aaron, and if there was anyone she was loyal to it was him.

Gabby made a face. “I know,” she said. “Dad’s always saying.” And then she winced again. “I guess- you can talk to me, okay? Or we can just get drunk, or - I know it’s not the same, but - look, Liv, you’re my best friend, and I want to make sure you don’t like, cry yourself to death or something, okay?”

Liv snapped. “My dad raped my brother when he was eight years old," she said, all in a rush. "And then he hung himself in prison, Gabby, so- I don’t really think there’s anything you can say, okay? Your dad is dying but that’s not the same, not at all, because Ashley is a good person and the person who made half of me is probably in hell, which is what he deserves.”

Gabby froze, and then she said, “Liv-” and she was there, suddenly, and wrapping her arms around Liv, and holding on. “You can tell me,” she said, quietly, “Liv, I swear, you can tell me anything. I don’t care what it sounds like. I’ve said worse to you, haven’t I? So you can say it to me.”

It spilled out of Liv, then, like tears or snot or vomit or whatever unpleasant bodily fluid you wanted to think about it. She hadn’t meant to dam it up: she had been trying not to. But there were so many things that she - she could say them to Aaron, he would listen, of course he would - but it wouldn’t be fair to, and she loved him enough to want to spare him that.

Gabby just listened. Liv thought, a couple of times, that she was going to interrupt - to tell Liv that it was okay, that she was okay, or even that she was being stupid. But she just sat there, with her arms around Liv, just holding on.

Liv had never thought of Gabby as steady, before.

 

“Okay,” Aaron said, sticking his head round the door. “We need to book your flight home, Gabby, and you're in trouble. They've been worried sick.”

Liv swiped at her face with the back of her hand.

Gabby handed her a tissue without looking.

Aaron looked back and forth between them and entered the room, leaning with his back against the door.

“Look,” Gabby said. “Do you wanna get out of the house? Just for a bit. Do something else. I’ve never been round the city, it could be fun.”

Liv kind of wanted to. She loved Aaron, and she liked Paddy, but she couldn’t exactly be around them without - thinking about it. And Paddy didn’t know her. “You’ve got to get to the airport,” she said.

“I've got this credit card,” Gabby said. “For emergencies. We might as well use it since I'm not gonna be allowed out of the house for the next two years, probably.” She tipped her head to the side. “I mean, if you want to. No pressure.”

Aaron sighed and looked at Liv; Liv shrugged back at him. “We'll book you the evening flight,” he said. “But you tell your mum that you had no other option, yeah?”

Liv went over and hugged him. “Thank you,” she said.

He kissed her hair. “You're welcome.”

 

They bought Aaron a six-pack of Schöfferhofer with Gabby’s emergency credit card. “He’s gonna hate it,” Gabby said.

“I know,” Liv said. “That’s why we’re getting it.” She grinned, all teeth. The cans were luridly orange, like a superhero costume.

 

Aaron stared at both of them, blankly, and then laughed so hard he almost pitched off the sofa.

"Grapefruit," he said. "This is grapefruit juice and beer."

"S'good for you, innit," said Liv, deadpan. "Make sure you don't get scurvy."

 

Gabby left willingly, but she did she slipped a little tube into Liv's pocket and said, “If you don't want to feel like yourself.”

Liv took out the lipstick and said, “So I can feel like you?”

Gabby shrugged. “It doesn’t matter who,” she says. “I do it all the time. I promise, it helps.”

Liv thought, all of a sudden, that many things about Gabby now made sense.

 

-

 

Paddy was a vet. This was great, because it meant he had puppies. Liv wasn’t like, the world’s hugest fan of animals - she liked Noah okay, but that was pretty much it, and Gabby’s fucking horses were right out - but she had to admit that the puppies were cute. It wasn’t so much the puppies, anyway. It was Aaron.

“Why do I always get the puppies?” he grumbled, but his hands were soft and careful, and he was so kind.

Paddy winked at Liv. “He puts up a brave face,” he said, “but you put a dog anywhere near him and he’s useless.”

Aaron paused in cooing at a very small puppy to look up and glare. His glare had very little bite to it when it came to Paddy. The puppy lurched up and licked his face.

Liv shrugged and dangled a bit of string for the fat cat with some sort of kidney problem Paddy was looking after. The cat purred and twitched its tail.

Paddy giggled. “Aw,” he said. “Look, you’re great friends now, aren’t you?”

Aaron rolled his eyes and pressed his nose to the puppy’s nose. It yelped happily and snuggled against him. He looked happy, almost.

 

-

 

“Text Aaron and tell him to take the long way home,” Paddy said. He said it urgently and with no charm. This was rare for Paddy so Liv picked her head up and did it.

“I’ll tell him to buy milk,” she said. No point borrowing trouble; this was something she’d learned in dealing with her mum.

“Good thinking,” Paddy said, and went to the fridge to take out the new full milk and tip it down the sink.

Liv looked out the window to see what had Paddy so spooked, and dropped her phone from suddenly slippery hands. “That's Robert's car,” she said. “What are we going to do?”

“We can't lie,” Paddy said unhappily. “I’d like to, but we can’t.”

“Aaron would be upset,” Liv agreed. But she remembered the way Aaron looked when anyone talked even around Robert's existence, just tightly-wound and unhappy, and god, she wanted to.

 

Robert came up to the door. His shoulders were a miserable slope. He hadn't gelled his hair and it was standing up in miserable tufts. He looked like a sad fluffy rodent - like a rat that had been caught in the rain.

“Listen,” Paddy said. “Let me handle this, okay?”

“Okay,” Liv said. There was something about Paddy that made him easy to trust; maybe it was the way Aaron trusted him, whole hearted, clear eyed. Aaron was very good at being loyal. Liv hoped one day she'd learn the knack.

Robert stiffened when Paddy opened the door, and started talking before either Paddy or Liv could say anything. "Whatever Aaron's said to you, and whatever you think of me, I think I'm owed a chance to talk to him."

Paddy looked at Robert, calm and level. "What would you do, if you were me?"

Robert deflated. "Probably lie and send me away.” He winced.

Paddy sighed. "All right,"  he said. "You can sit on the sofa and I’m going to call Aaron and ask him what he wants." He narrowed his eyes. "And whatever Aaron says, that's what we'll do."

Robert opened his mouth and then shut it again. "Okay,"  he said, after a moment. "That sounds fair."

 

Liv didn’t want to speak to him, so she didn’t. It wasn’t really about the ‘potentially a murderer’ thing - Aaron hadn’t taken it seriously in the first place, so Liv hadn’t either, and then DS Wise had called and told them it was a suicide, so it was all pointless. She had cried for an hour and Aaron had gone out for a run and then sat with Paddy in the living room with all the lights out, and then Liv had thrown three garden gnomes off the roof.

Paddy had told her the owners didn’t like garden gnomes, anyway.

Robert had been glad when they said Gordon was dead, just - completely, fiercely glad. Liv was so jealous of that surety that it made her teeth ache. She wished that she could have just hated him. Talking to Robert made her feel small and weak and selfish.

And he had burned that letter, with which Aaron might have- He had burned the letter. The point was that he had burned the letter, and he had made Aaron sadder than he would have been otherwise; so she did not want him to look at her, nor did she want to look at him.

 

Paddy said, “He’ll be home in a bit. You can stay.”

Robert crossed his arms over his chest. “Okay,” he said. He looked like Gabby did, when she knew she was wrong and was trying to cover up feeling it.

“You can have some water if you want,” Paddy said. “I'm not making you tea.”

“That’s fine,” Robert said. He went to the sofa and sat on it. He was wearing a green cardigan, with buttons on the front.

Paddy hovered for a moment and then sat in the armchair next to him, eyeing him as though Robert was a hawk and Paddy a rabbit; like he was about to be eaten and there was nothing he could do about it, but he would certainly glare anyway.

Liv said, “I'm going outside,” and went into the garden to kick three more garden gnomes until they shattered.

While she was there she fumbled in her pocket for the lipstick Gabby had given her. When she put it on she looked like someone else. Someone who wasn’t scared.

It was a little alarming and she wiped it off quickly with the back of her sleeve, but it was good to know that if she wanted she could.

 

Aaron came back holding a shopping bag with a milk container in it. He and Paddy had a whispered conversation in the doorway, and then Paddy took Maisy and came back to the yard with Liv, and Aaron went inside.

“I’m kicking garden gnomes,” Liv said.

“I know,” Paddy said. “We could hear you inside.”

“Oops,” she offered, insincerely.

He rubbed at his temples. “Is it nice?” he asked. “I might give it a go.”

She handed him the garden gnome that was holding a fishing rod, wordless.

 

Liv had to pee so she crept into the house and then just - didn’t creep back out. Eavesdropping was not her best habit but it was pretty important. In Liv’s life, she mostly didn’t find things out unless she overheard them.

(Aaron kept saying, talk to me, and she was trying, she really was.)

"I love you," Robert said. He had gotten up and was standing close to Aaron, but not too close. His shoulders were stiff but so were Aaron's.

"I know," Aaron said, and he swallowed. "I need you to prove that to me,"  he said. "I need you to let me go."

Robert said, very slowly, "I don't think I know how to do that."

Aaron put his hands on Robert's face, curling his fingers along the line of Robert’s jaw. Liv didn't think she'd seen them ever so close. "You know that I believe in you, don't you? I believe that you can do this. For me."

"I love you,"  Robert said, again. "I've tried so hard, Aaron."

"I know," Aaron said, again. He put his forehead against Robert's; Liv thought, probably she should go, but she didn't. "I know, Rob. Don't think I haven't seen it. But I don't have space for you. I can't have space for you. Not now."

“Fucking Gordon,” Robert said, sounding pissed and exhausted.

Aaron laughed, very tightly. "Yeah,"  he said. "Yeah, he can burn in hell.”

"I can be better with Liv,"  Robert said, miserably. "I can try harder."

"I need you to be better with you," Aaron countered, but kindly. "And I need to be better with me."

"So it's not forever?" Robert looked at Aaron with all this longing in his face. It made Liv remember the way he had looked at Aaron the day they had first met - as though Aaron was important, as though he was the centre of the world.

He was, she thought, for Robert. That was why Robert couldn’t like her. 

Because now that she was here, Aaron would always love her most. He could never love Robert in the same all-encompassing way that Robert loved him.

"’And then we give it a proper chance,’" Aaron said, like he was reciting a poem, like he had burned those words onto his own mind. "Remember, you said that. This isn't it. We'll get that, okay, I promise. But not now."

"It killed me to say that," Robert said, like a confession.

"It's not easy to say it now," Aaron said. He traced his fingertips along the curve of Robert’s cheek. "But I can't do this. I can't be about you when I've got to be about me.”

Robert leaned into him. "Okay,"  he said. "If that's what you really want."

"I really want you to have not burnt that letter,"  Aaron said, tiredly, and then put up his hand as if to forestall an argument. "But you did, and I get why you did it, and now this is all we can do."

"You did think I'd killed someone," Robert countered, limply. “I mean. Chas says you did.”

Aaron raised both eyebrows. "Robert," he said.

"Okay," Robert said. "That's fair." He sighed. "You’ll want me to go, then."

Aaron swallowed. "Yeah,"  he said. “I think that would be best."

Robert closed his eyes and stepped away, like it hurt him to do it. “You’re making a mistake,” he said, one last-ditch attempt. “You know that, right?”

Aaron said, "Tell Vic or Adam to let me know when you get home."

"Yeah," Robert said. "Okay." He paused. “I really am sorry, Aaron.”

“I know,” Aaron said. “But you’d do it again.”

Robert swallowed. “Yeah, I would,” he said, and he turned his back, and walked out the door.

 

Aaron sat down on the sofa and put his head in his hands and took a deep, deep breath.

 “I think I’m cried out,” he said. “Liv, you can come out now.”

She slipped out from behind the door. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I-”

“Thought he’d killed someone,” Aaron said, dismissively. “You really have to stop doing this, Liv.”

She shrugged. “It’s the only way I find out anything, isn’t it?”

“No,” Aaron said, and then he sighed. “I’m sorry if you - you can ask me, okay? You can talk to me, and I’ll tell you. I promise, I won’t lie to you.”

Liv swallowed and laced her fingers behind her back, digging her nails into her palms. "Are you gonna take him back?"  

"Maybe," Aaron said. "Not now, though." He paused. "He hurt me a lot. But I do love him, Liv. It's hard to explain."

She shrugged. "I see the way you look at him," she said. "And I know I don't have any say in who you're with."

Aaron sighed. "You do, though,"  he said. "You're it, okay? You're the most important person in the world. If you asked me not to - if you ever did - I wouldn’t. I need you to know that."

She bit her lip. She knew this, but it sometimes scared her to hear it. Aaron could do crazy, stupid things for people when he loved them. It was a lot of power, and Liv mostly didn’t think she could handle it. She hadn’t even been allowed to take the class hamster home, let alone be the person for whom Aaron would happily sacrifice everything.

"I can't be with him now. It would be the wrong thing for you and for me and for him, too."

"Is it my fault?"  She knew it was small and petty and the wrong priority, but she didn't want Aaron to hate her like she sometimes thought her mum did, even when Mum was trying her best not to resent Liv’s existence, which had ruined many things.

"No," Aaron said, hugging her tightly. "No, it's not - yeah, Liv, things would be different if I didn't have you, but I love you. I wouldn't lose you for anything. I want to be able to make this choice for you, okay? The only person who ever made it for me was Paddy and it - it was the best thing that ever happened to me.” He paused. “After you, that is.”

She tucked herself against his chest. “Okay,” she said. “If you’re sure.”

He kissed her hair. “I’m so sure, Liv. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my entire life.”

“I would do anything for you,” she said. It was the only thing she had to give him.

“Liv,” he said, quietly. “It’s okay if you don’t. You’re not supposed to, okay? That’s not your job. I don’t want that for you.”

“I know,” she said, tucking her face into his shoulder. It was not acquiescence. “I love you, too.”

 

-

 

"What is this," Paddy said, "I thought I moved away from all of you lot and now the village green is in my front yard!” But he was smiling, and when he pulled the door open Adam Barton stepped through it.

Aaron got to his feet and flew towards Adam, so quickly, like he was magnetic; he stopped half a foot away.

Adam smiled at him, this big broad delighted thing that lit up his whole face. Like sunshine caught in his skin.

“We’ll leave you to it,” Paddy said, going into the kitchen. Paddy was good that way. Respectful. He would leave the room when Liv was on the phone with her mum, just to make sure she had enough privacy.

Liv curled up on the sofa and eyed Aaron; he eyed her back.

“It’s all right,” Adam said, shrugging, “you can stay if you want, Liv. Like a little guard dog.”

“Adam-” Aaron started, but it was too late.

“Cheers,” Liv said, tucking herself into a little nest of pillows. She rested her head on the arm of the couch and yawned.

 

Adam looked at her, thoughtfully, and then stepped towards Aaron again. “Mate, I'm so sorry,” he said. “Vic's ripped me a new one. I really fucked up."

“I know,” Aaron said, even, but without malice.

Adam’s face twisted up and then smoothed out. "I want to be here for you. Like you've always been there for me."

"I was in love with you,"  Aaron said, shrugging. He was holding himself back - not the whole way, but some. "It's different."

"Was," Adam said, half a question.

"I still love you," Aaron said; not quite an answer, but close enough.

Adam sighed and opened his arms. "I know I take advantage," he said. "But I do love you."

"You're getting soppy,"  Aaron said. "Watch it."

But he stepped forward and put his arms around Adam, anyway.

"I'll manage the scrapyard for as long as you need," Adam said, into Aaron's shoulder. "Don't worry about it, all right? I've got it. And if I haven't, I'll sort it."

"You sure about that?"

"I am, yeah," Adam said, very sincere. "Listen, Robert wants to help, but I told him no. That's all right, isn’t it?"

Aaron blinked. "Seriously?"

"I want you to feel good about coming back to this," Adam said. "About coming back to us. If he's gonna make that hard then - I can just work on my own. It’s more work but I can handle it."

Aaron rubbed his hand over his mouth. "Look, if you need him-"

"I don't," Adam said, immediately, with such sincerity that Liv rocked back, a little. "Yeah, he'd be useful, and yeah, he does love you, but it's all right. You're my mate and this business doesn't work without you."

Aaron twisted his mouth, thoughtful. "Okay,"  he said, finally. "That would be better, I think. Cheers." There was a brittleness to the way he said it, a soft kind of pre-hurt Liv knew well. 

"Good," Adam said. He punched Aaron, very lightly, in the shoulder. 

Aaron exhaled, and a tiny smile tugged the edges of his lips, and crinkled around his eyes. 

 

Liv went outside, then. The dog wanted a walk, and so did she.

 

-

 

Adam stayed for a day and a half, which was all he could afford since he was now running the scrapyard all on his own. It was nice; he and Aaron went out and did stuff that mostly ended up with both of them drunk on the sofa, giggling at each other about some car or another.

Liv got to go to work with Paddy, and feed the litter of orphaned kittens someone had left at the step. She liked the kittens. They had sweet faces, and they mewled at her instead of asking her how she felt about anything.

Not that she didn’t appreciate being asked, and crying all over Paddy was nice, but the kittens were very soothing.

Gabby liked to be someone else, but Liv wasn't much good at that.

“You’re good with them,” Paddy said. “They really like you. You’ve got good hands for kittens.”

“They didn't like me at first,” she said. They had scratched her and bitten her, but they had just missed their mum and she’d understood that, after she washed out the scrapes and bit her own lip hard and reminded herself to breathe. “But now they’re all right.”

“You feed them enough times, they’re not going anywhere,” Paddy said. He laughed. “That’s how I got Aaron, isn’t it?”

“Aaron’s not a kitten,” Liv said, bristling a little. A kitten licked at her fingers.

“I know,” Paddy said. “And neither are you.”

Liv sighed. “You’re really kind,” she said. “It’s weird. D’you think Aaron got that from you?”

“Oh,” Paddy said, startled. “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.” He stepped forward, like he wanted to give her a hug, and then stopped.

She rolled her eyes. “Go on,” she said, putting the kitten back in the box with its siblings. “If you really want to.”

 

He did give good hugs, though. Not as good as Aaron, but pretty good.

 

"This is a proper Läuft moment," he said, beaming at her, after he let her go.

She wrapped her arms around herself and tilted her head to the side. "Oh, really." Paddy had a book of German phrases and used them whenever possible. Aaron thought it was ridiculous but he always smiled, because he smiled at all of Paddy's weird shit, and so it made Liv smile inside, too.

"Just means everything's all right," Paddy says. "I mean, it is, isn't it? At least right now."

She thought about it. "Yeah," she said. "I guess that sounds okay."

 

-

 

"It's funny,"  Aaron said, after they'd packed Adam off to the airport. "We've had everyone except my mum. I definitely would have expected her."

Paddy made a little face, and hunched his shoulders like he did when he was trying to keep a secret but failing miserably, because he was terrible at it.

"Paddy?" Aaron said.

"She's waiting for you to call," Paddy said, all in a rush. "I'm sorry, I should have told you I'd had a word. She said she'd wait until you were ready. She understands."

"Jesus," Aaron said, wrapping his arms around Maisy in his lap. She swiped her tongue along the side of his face and he laughed, startled. "How'd you manage that?"

"A very long phone conversation," Paddy said. "No fun for either of us, I promise." He reached out and put his hand on Aaron's shoulder. "She'll wait as long as you need, okay? You take your time. She knows it's not about her."

"She does now, does she?"

"She does now," Paddy said, firmly.

Aaron rubbed his hand gently along the back of Maisy’s head, scratching her behind the ears. “Thank you,” he said.

 

-

 

"Are we ever gonna go back?" Liv asked, sprawling on the sofa next to Aaron. She wouldn’t mind if he would put his arm around her, but she didn’t quite want to ask, so she just sat there, shoulder close to his but not touching. "To Emmerdale, I mean." She paused. "I'm not saying we have to, I promise. I'm not fishing, I'm just curious."

“I dunno,” he said. “I've been talking to my mum. Just a bit. I miss her.”

“She's all right,”  Liv said, remembering Chas telling her never apologize for how you feel, remembering how she had put her foot in her mouth but she had wanted so badly to fix it, because she loved Aaron, and she was beginning to love Liv, too, despite Liv’s best efforts.

He sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“That wasn't a go,” she said, quickly, and turned to look at him so she could be sure he would know.

He dropped a kiss to the crown of her head. “I know, Liv.” He stretched out his arm, leaving just the right space for her. “If you want to-”

She sighed and fit herself against him. “I think,” she said. “Eventually. I wouldn’t mind.”

“Okay,” he said. “I think we can manage that.”