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no doubt in my mind where you belong

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“Got you a bit of a housewarming present,” Vic says after she’s helped him move the last of his things back into the Mill. “It’s for you and Aaron. Though probably a bit more for you.”

Robert gives her a puzzled look, both surprised and touched by her gesture. “Uh… Thanks. But you really didn’t have to. You just letting me and Seb stay with you all these months was enough.”

“I know,” she says her voice as sunny as her smile. “But I wanted to. Trust me. You’ll get why when you see it.”

He gives her a curious look as she bends forward and reaches into one of the boxes she’s just carried in. She emerges with a flat, medium-sized package wrapped in brown paper that was tucked into its side.

Robert moves to take it from her, but she moves it just out of his reach.

“Now, before you say anythin’, I just feel the need to say…” Vic says, fixing him with her sternest stare. “You still owe me for leavin’ my door open like that all night. I know you and Aaron are in love and all, but some of us do still have bills to pay. I hope you remember that.”

“Uh. Sorry about that,” Robert mumbles, his magenta-pink cheeks offset by the amount of blue in his outfit. (She vaguely remembers him telling her a long time ago, that it was Aaron's favourite colour and she almost rolls her eyes at the sentimentality of it all.) “Let me know how much I owe you.”

She knows he’s being earnest, but she can’t resist one more dig, “And another thing. If I so much as hear another second of that stupid Adele song anywhere near me again-“

“Yeah, yeah I know,” Robert argues, lifting his hands up in surrender, an embarrassed expression on his face as the tips of his ears really turn red now. “You won’t have to hear me play it ever again..."

And then a little more softly than he's been speaking, "Aaron said we don't have a song."  

Vic detects the slightest bit of soreness in his voice, like a child who’d had their heart set on a specific toy, only to get the next best thing. Only, in this case, the thing he’d wanted was Aaron himself, which meant he’d do anything to keep from losing him again — including giving up something as trivial as a song he’d pretty much designated as theirs. (A song she's heard upward of a hundred times by now.) 

She’s not going to lie, she’s a little disappointed too. She’d at least expected to hear it playing at their next wedding (not that they’ve said anything about having another one). It just seems like something they would do. 

Smitten kitten, Vic thinks again, looking at the man Robert Sugden has become; the kind that nursed a broken heart for months before finally attempting to move on; the kind that comes to his little sister, eager to discuss any possible developments in his relationship with the man he loves; the kind that cannot wait a moment longer to finish moving into the home he’d built for his husband, his young sister-in-law, his son, and whatever other members they might add to this ragtag little family.

The kind that she’s proud to call her brother.

Not wanting to delay the moment any longer, she hands over the present, Robert reaching out and taking it from her gently.

He rips off the paper to reveal the back of a wooden frame. He finishes ripping and then turns it over to reveal the frame's subject: a heavily wrinkled piece of paper with dark, messy handwriting scrawled all over it.

It doesn’t take him more than a second to realise whose writing it is. Though it does take him a little longer to realise what he’s looking at. (And a few additional seconds to really take in the words.) Luckily, the Dingle & Dingle logo at the top gives it some kind of context. 

 He looks up at her, confusion flashing across his face and a bevvy of questions threatening to spill from his lips. Only one of which she can answer.

“Found an interesting piece of rubbish outside my place on Friday morning,” she explains, a smile on her face as Robert looks back down at the object in his hands. “Thought you might like to keep it. Maybe hang it up in your new bedroom.”

He stares at it for a few more minutes, letting its significance sink in, and nodding as he does so.

When he looks back up at her there are tears in his eyes — the happy, disbelieving kind. As a frequent crier herself, Vic can easily distinguish the difference.

The kind that can’t believe that anyone could love him this much, she adds to her mental list as she responds with a pleased smile of her own.

“Come here,” he says softly, letting go of the frame with one hand so he can give her a side hug out of gratitude. She steps forward and fits under his arm, wrapping hers around his chest and squeezing him with affection.

She really is going to miss living with him — and his terrible taste in music. When she finally lets go — after giving him one last squeeze — she leans up on her toes to give him a kiss on the cheek, before stepping away again.

“You really do deserve to be happy, Rob,” Vic tells him gently, willing him to believe it as much as she does.

All she gets in reply is a teary-eyed nod. “Thanks… So do you.”

“Are you kiddin' me? I’m finally gettin’ my box room back,” she tells him cheekily. “I’m plenty happy.”

Robert rolls his eyes at her as she sticks out her tongue at him. They both know that her happiness is a conversation for another day. Today is all about his.

As if awaiting his cue,  Aaron chooses that moment to walk into the flat, clad in his usual uniform of black jeans, black hoodie, and trainers. Vic feels a rush of affection for the man who could make her big brother this happy.

“Is it just me, or did you manage to get even more stuff?” Aaron asks, looking around at all the boxes.

Finally, he notices that Robert’s got something in his hands, and curiosity gets the better of him. “What’s that?”

“Housewarming present from Vic,” Robert answers, handing it over to him.

Aaron turns a similar shade of crimson when he realises what he’s holding. He clears his throat as he looks up at Victoria and says, “Uh, Thanks. Was wondering where that had gotten to.”

“Based on that, I should be thankin’ you,” she teases, before deciding to get a little real. “I didn’t think I’d ever see Robert this happy again. Or you.”

Both men blush at that, before turning to glance shyly at each other, small smiles dancing on their lips. Vic grins, remembering what that used to feel like; the warmth that would bloom in her chest. Before she can be hit with more stray thoughts about Adam and the life they’d planned together, she pushes her feelings aside to focus on the couple of the moment. (Though based on the way they’re now eyeing each other, there’s definitely going to be a moment as soon as she's gone.)

“Alright, I’m off,” she announces, turning to leave. But before she does actually decide to exit, she decides to do her brother a solid and leave him with one last gift.

“Um, Aaron?”

“Hmm?” He tears his eyes from Robert’s face to look at her.

“What’s this I heard about you two not havin’ a song?” Vic asks, her tone clearly meaning business. “Do you know how many times I had to sit through him listening to that stupid single?"

She doesn't wait for him before answering,"Too many."

Robert looks like he's going to remain a permanent shade of pink (even if there is a pleased twinkle in his eyes), while Aaron looks suitably chastised. 

"Trust me," Vic reiterates as sternly as she can. "You have a song.”

With that, she takes her leave, shutting the door behind her.

(She knows she should leave, but she stands there a second longer eager to hear their reactions. She's not disappointed when both men erupt into a conversation.)  

 “I can’t believe you really made a list.” (Robert, gentle, affectionate.)

I can’t believe you told her about the song.” (Aaron, exasperated but pleased.)

Vic smiles and walks back up the driveway.

The kind that will be just fine.