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If You Dare, Come A Little Closer

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Aaron let himself into the apartment, kicked off his shoes, dropped his bag on the floor and leaned back against the door. Blowing out a long sigh, he closed his eyes for a moment as he allowed the door to take his weight. He was exhausted.

He’d spent several years working on the streets - his nights had been long, his job hardly something to enjoy, and he’d worked bloody hard for his money - but he honestly didn’t think he’d ever been as tired as he was at the moment.

A six hour shift stacking shelves at Asda should not have been enough to wear him out so much. But when he added his shifts at the supermarket to his volunteering at the shelter and his hours spent at college completing his mechanic course, he could understand why he felt ready to drop.

He was knackered. But he was happier than he could ever remember being. It was worth it.

Robert had been nagging him about not overdoing it. He’d seen how tired Aaron was, could hardly not have noticed when Aaron was literally falling asleep on him on the sofa at nine o’clock most nights, but he didn’t push the issue too hard. They’d already argued about Aaron’s various commitments and since then Robert had tried not to interfere too much. It was Aaron’s decision and Robert would support him.

When Robert had suggested that Aaron didn’t actually need to work at Asda because he could provide for both of them and didn’t Aaron already have enough on his plate, Aaron had tried to carefully tell him that, while that was very generous, he wanted to pay his own way as much as possible. Robert, being Robert, hadn’t been very good at accepting that and had been quite insistent that Aaron should just quit the supermarket job because he made more than enough money for the two of them to live more than comfortably on. Aaron had struggled to stay calm as Robert had gone on and on about it - his heart was in the right place after all, but he just didn’t get it.

Eventually Aaron had snapped, telling Robert that he didn’t want him paying for everything and that he’d always been independent and been able to look after himself before, so he didn’t need to be a ‘kept man’ now. But Robert still hadn’t backed down and had pushed the issue, telling Aaron he just wanted to look after him and didn’t want to see him wearing himself into the ground when he didn’t need to.

“I like having someone to look after,” Robert had told him and the soft look on his face had almost been enough to end Aaron’s frustration, but he hadn’t been able to let it go. He had to make Robert see that they couldn’t be in a relationship like that.

“I want us to be equals,” Aaron had said, “or as much as we can be. And if you want to pay for everything and let me live off your money…” he’d swallowed thickly, “well, you’re still treating me like a rent-boy.”

Robert’s mouth had hung open and he’d shaken his head in denial. But it had been enough to shut him up and end the argument.

He hadn’t suggested that Aaron quit his job again and he hadn’t offered to pay for everything either. In fact, when they went out, they split the bill, more often than not. And Aaron could see that it was causing Robert almost physical pain, but he bit down on his desire to flash the cash and he let Aaron pay his share, and Aaron loved him all the more for it. Something so simple showed just how far Robert had come and how he was trying his best to understand how Aaron felt.      

Pushing himself away from the door, Aaron tidied up his shoes and grabbed his work bag off the floor, not wanting Robert to come through the door and trip over it. He made his way into their bedroom and chucked his bag onto the chair in the corner. He glanced at the bed - the comfiest bed in the entire world, as he’d always thought of it from the first night he’d slept in it - and forced himself to keep moving instead of slumping down onto it and getting comfortable. He needed a shower and that might even help to wake him up a bit too.

Wandering into the en-suite, he started stripping off his clothes. He couldn’t help but smile at the toiletries on the counter and the shampoo bottles and shower gels next to one another in the shower cubicle. It always made him smile. Not so long ago, he’d taken a half-empty bottle of Robert’s shower gel with him when he’d ran out of the other man’s life, supposedly for good. Apart from his memories and the ache in his heart, it had been one of the only things he’d been able to physically hold on to to remind that his time with Robert had been real. He never thought he’d have something like this - not the fancy, expensive stuff, that really didn’t matter, but the feeling of sharing something. Seeing his things alongside Robert’s, where it felt like they belonged, meant so much to him.

He’d moved into Robert’s apartment after a few months of them ‘seeing one another properly’. After they’d finally stopped being so stupid and stubborn and admitted how they really felt about one another, it had taken a while for them to decide what to do. The beginning of their relationship was unusual to say the least and Aaron had practically lived with Robert for a week before he’d ran away and left him. But they’d both decided that although they’d fallen quickly, they needed to slow things down a bit. Moving straight in with Robert at his apartment definitely wouldn’t be taking things slowly so, rather reluctantly, they’d agreed that Aaron would go back to stay at the flat with Tracy. He’d obviously given up his former line of work, but he knew he could stay at her flat while he found something else to do and live off the bit of money he’d managed to save up.

It had all been a bit of a daft charade really, seeing as Aaron had spent nearly every night at Robert’s apartment anyway. They’d started out with good intentions: hadn’t seen each other every day, Aaron hadn’t slept at the apartment, and they didn’t even have sex for the first week of their ‘official relationship’, but their resolve to take things slowly had crumbled fairly quickly and they hadn’t been able to stay away from one another for long. Eventually, Aaron seemed to have more stuff at Robert’s than he did at ‘home’ and Robert had plucked up the courage to ask him to move in properly after they’d been seeing one another for a few months. It wasn’t exactly slow, but it was the best that they could manage.  

And who needed slow when they were happy? Because they really were. Aaron had never felt so loved and so complete in his life. He felt like he was part of something and Robert was responsible for that.

Sometimes, when he was having a tough day or doubting himself (like he probably always would thanks to his past) he wondered if Robert was as happy as he was, but then he’d catch Robert staring at him with a soft look on his face, or wake up to find Robert snuggled into his side, or come home to a beautiful home-cooked meal because Robert had left work early so he could surprise him, and he just knew: he knew Robert loved him.

They bickered about stuff. Of course they did. And they’d had a couple of big rows too. The one about Aaron’s job had nearly become something big - a massive barrier between them - but they’d got through that because they’d listened to one another.   

They’d had another argument that had spiralled into something worse before either of them had even had chance to stop it. It was about Aaron’s father.

Robert had got it into his head that Gordon needed to face punishment for what he’d done to Aaron when he was a child. He’d suggested it to Aaron and told him all about the great solicitor he knew of who specialised in cases like his. He’d been so swept up in it all that he hadn’t even noticed Aaron’s paling face and wide eyes. It wasn’t until Aaron had yelled at him to stop that he’d even realised that he hadn’t actually asked Aaron whether he wanted to report his father.

Aaron had been upset by the whole conversation, but had managed to insist that he didn’t want to go to the police. He didn’t want a court case. And he never wanted to see Gordon again.

It had been hard for Robert to accept, but he had, promising that he wouldn’t bring up the idea of Aaron reporting what had happened again because it was Aaron’s choice.

And Aaron had thought that was end of it, until a few weeks later, Robert had mentioned Gordon getting what he deserved again, only that time he’d suggested that he paid someone to track him down and make him suffer. Aaron hadn’t been able to believe what he was hearing and the malicious look on Robert’s face when he’d told Aaron of his idea was one he never wanted to see again.

They’d had a blazing row that night: Aaron desperate to make Robert understand; Robert desperate to see Gordon face justice for hurting the person he loved.

Aaron had threatened to leave (not for good, but to give them both some time to cool down), but Robert had beaten him to it. He’d grabbed his coat and stormed out of the apartment before Aaron could take a step towards the door. Left alone, Aaron had sunk down onto the sofa and sobbed. He’d always feared that his past would find a way to tear them apart and it seemed like that was what was happening. He’d feared he’d never be free of Gordon’s hold over him.

It had only been an hour when Robert had come bursting through the apartment door, out of breath and looking around frantically before he’d realised that Aaron was sitting on the sofa, red eyed and sniffing. He’d rushed towards him and collapsed onto his knees in front of him.

“Thank God,” he’d declared. “I thought you might be gone. I panicked that you might walk out – please, don’t ever do that. Whatever I do, whatever I say or how much of an idiot you think I’ve been, please don’t leave me like that.” He’d babbled desperately as he’d looked up at Aaron’s face. “I’m sorry, Aaron. I’m so sorry. I understand why you don’t want to have all of that stuff dredged up and it was wrong of me to think I knew best. I shouldn’t have tried to take that decision away from you. Please…please don’t hate me for it. I just wanted to make things right for you. And I wanted to see him suffer for hurting you, but that wasn’t my decision to make – I get that. I promise you, I’ll never mention him again.”

Aaron had been a little overwhelmed by the out-pouring of emotion and the desperation on Robert’s face, but he’d managed to smile a tiny, watery smile. “I know why you wanted to do it,” he’d told him quietly. “But it wouldn’t change anything – not for me.”

“I know,” Robert had said with a nod. “But you can change your mind if you ever want to.”

Aaron had leant forward and stroked a hand through Robert’s hair. He’d purposefully avoided commenting on the fact that he could change his mind because as far as he was concerned, his mind was made up. “I wouldn’t just walk out and leave you, you know?” he’d said softly.

Robert had simply closed his eyes at the words and leant into Aaron’s touch, a sigh of relief falling from his lips.   

Things weren’t perfect, but who needed perfect when they had one another?

Aaron reached into the huge shower cubicle and turned it on. As he felt the water warming up immediately, he stepped straight in. It never failed to make him sigh in contentment that he didn’t have to wait for a ridiculous amount of time to get any heat flowing through the pipes like he used to when he lived with Tracy. Just one of the perks of living in the penthouse apartment, he thought to himself every time he stepped under the spray. He couldn’t actually believe how lucky he was – he still couldn’t wrap his mind around the twist of fate that had led to Robert picking him up that night. There were so many things that could have changed the course of their futures in that moment and as that first week together had progressed, but here he was. He knew he’d never take it for granted. He sometimes wondered if Robert was aware that if all the money and the glamour and the flashy lifestyle disappeared overnight, Aaron would stay with him regardless. He didn’t care about the money – they could live in a tiny, cramped, damp, shoebox of a flat, and Aaron would be happy as long as Robert was there. He hoped that Robert knew that – he was sure he did.

Closing his eyes, he allowed the pressure of the water to soothe him and carry some of the exhaustion of the day away. His body felt heavy, his limbs weary, and he wondered if it was possible to fall asleep standing up.

He was so lost in his own head that he didn’t even realise he had company until he felt strong arms wrap around him to pull him close against a solid body.

“Long day?” Robert murmured against his ear.

Aaron nodded once. “Long week,” he replied. “You’re home early.” He felt Robert shrug slightly behind him.

“Not that early. I felt like surprising you – knew you’d be knackered.”

Aaron was about to respond when his words turned into a groan as Robert’s mouth latched onto where his neck met his shoulder and he sucked on the skin, gradually making his way up Aaron’s neck to the space just below his ear. Fingers curled around Robert’s arm that was around his waist, Aaron pressed his head back against Robert’s shoulder. God, he wanted a shag, but he was so tired, he really didn’t think he had the energy, even for something that would be so worth the effort.

“Let me take care of you,” Robert breathed against his ear and before Aaron could agree that that sounded like a fantastic idea, the fingers of Robert’s other hand had danced their way down across his stomach and found themselves wrapped around his erection.

Aaron bit his lip as Robert’s hand dragged up the length of him and back down slowly. Despite the warmth of the water, he shuddered in Robert’s arms. The pace was slow at first and Aaron found himself wanting to push into Robert’s fist; his twitching muscles must have given him away as Robert picked up the speed and stroked him more quickly. He returned his lips to Aaron’s neck and sucked and nipped at his skin as Aaron thrust into his hand and gasped when Robert’s thumb teased at his slit.

Aaron could feel Robert’s own hard dick pressing against his backside as the man behind him rocked his hips in time with the movement of his hand and the combination of every sensation had Aaron’s orgasm building inside him. His eyes were squeezed closed as he tipped his head back further, reaching his hand up and behind him to wrap around the back of Robert’s head. Robert’s hand was moving on him rapidly, and then he felt like he was floating as his orgasm hit him and he felt his come splatter against his chest and stomach before it was immediately washed away by the water still beating down on him. He was gasping, his shaking legs felt like they might give way beneath him, but Robert still held him up and he leaned back against him for a long moment.

Eventually, he turned in Robert’s arms and pressed himself against his chest. He felt fingers trace across his back and a kiss to the top of his head.

“You get finished up in here – I’ll go and get something on for tea,” Robert said quietly.

Aaron pulled back and looked up at him. “Don’t you want me to return the favour?” He glanced down and then realised that Robert wasn’t hard anymore. For a moment he had a horrible feeling that he’d done something wrong.

Robert smiled a little bashfully at him and cleared his throat. “Seeing you like that really did it for me. And you were so spaced out, I don’t think you even noticed I’d sorted myself out.”

It was Aaron’s turn to blush. “Sorry,” he muttered, feeling guilty for being selfish.

Robert shook his head and laughed quietly. “You really have nothing to apologise for – I thoroughly enjoyed myself even though I wanted to do something nice for you.”

“Apparently there’s no such thing as a selfless good deed,” Aaron told him with a cheeky smile.

Robert laughed and smacked him lightly on the arse before he pressed a quick kiss to his forehead and stepped out of the shower to grab a towel. Aaron watched through the steamy glass as Robert quickly towelled himself off and wandered through to their bedroom, completely naked and almost definitely aware of Aaron’s eyes on him.

Aaron smiled to himself and shook his head slightly. He couldn’t even remember whether he’d washed his hair before Robert had made his appearance, so he grabbed the shampoo off the shelf. ‘How is this my life?’ he wondered as he stepped under the spray once more. 

Chapter Text

“So, I’ve done a cheesecake for pudding,” Vic announced as she walked back into the dining room from the kitchen, wielding a large metal spoon. “I hope that’s okay, Aaron: I did check with Robert, and he said you liked it, but I never know with him whether he’s just telling me what he thinks I want to hear just to get rid of me.”

She smiled at Robert as if to say, ‘And don’t even try to deny it: you’ve fobbed me off too many times over the years.’

Robert merely pretended to be disgruntled. “Did I, or did I not, ask you whether you liked cheesecake?” he directed at Aaron.

Aaron nodded and smiled at Victoria. “As much as it’d be funny to see what punishment you inflicted on him if I pretended I didn’t like it, I can’t lie. And cheesecake will be great, thanks.”

Robert smiled between his sister and his boyfriend triumphantly. He settled back in his chair as he listened to Aaron and Adam continue with their conversation about the match from the previous evening. He wondered if this was true contentment: sitting at his sister’s house, having enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal, with the man he loved beside him.

Dinner with Vic and Adam had become a fairly regular occurrence when everyone’s schedules allowed. Victoria had been beside herself with joy when Robert had informed her that he and Aaron had worked out their problems and were giving their relationship a proper go. She’d immediately invited them over for dinner so they could all start getting to know one another and Robert had put her off for as long as possible, knowing that the idea would cause Aaron no small amount of anxiety, before he’d finally had to accept and set a date.

As expected, Aaron had been incredibly nervous about it. He knew it was daft, but he’d feared that Victoria would be able to tell he was an ex-rent-boy as soon as she started talking to him properly. The idea of being put on the spot and asked loads of personal questions had genuinely panicked him. But Robert had promised he wouldn’t leave him alone to be bombarded and also had a quiet word with his sister before the event to ensure that she kept her excitement at a suitable level and didn’t let her nosiness (‘it’s called being curious, Rob,’ she’d insisted) run away with her in case she frightened Aaron off. He’d only been half-joking about that.

It had turned out that neither of them needed to worry. Victoria was on her ‘best behaviour’ and Aaron seemed to strike up an immediate connection with her husband, Adam. The first gathering was such a success that they’d organised another for a few weeks later, and then it had become just another part of their lives. Robert loved getting the chance to spend time with his little sister (something that he knew he’d allowed to fall down his list of priorities over the years and was keen to correct) and Aaron was genuinely happy to have a new mate.

When Vic had got more ‘curious’ with her questions, they’d explained how they’d met at a bar and hit it off straight away. They’d already decided that they needed a cover-story before the inevitable questions, and that was as simple, yet believable, as it needed to be. Vic had believed it (because why wouldn’t it be the truth?) and had simply gushed about how lovely it was and how she’d never seen Robert looking so ‘loved-up’, causing him to groan in embarrassment at his sister’s words and blush when Aaron smiled at him cheekily.

After their dessert, they sat around chatting for a bit and then Adam suddenly announced that he’d get started on the clearing up.

Vic was eying her husband suspiciously. “What’s got into you? Usually I have to show you where the sink is to get you doing any form of clearing up.”

Aaron sat up in his chair and started grabbing plates. “Let me help,” he said immediately.

“Ah, Aaron, you don’t need to do that,” Vic told him as she stood up. “He’s definitely a keeper,” she remarked to Robert as she nodded at Aaron.

Robert laughed and shook his head a little. “Don’t let this fool you. The only reason they’re so keen to tidy up is so they can go and set up a game of Fifa.”

Aaron and Adam both looked at him guiltily and Robert laughed again. “I know you too well,” he said as he patted Aaron on the knee and smiled at him smugly.

Aaron rolled his eyes and nudged Robert’s arm. “Can’t believe you dobbed me in,” he muttered.

“You two are so cute,” Vic said. She had a couple of plates in her hand as she stood beside the table smiling at them fondly. “Dad would be so proud of you, Rob,” she added.

The smile that had been on Robert’s face during their playful teasing fell immediately and he felt himself tense at the words. Vic didn’t notice his reaction as she turned towards the kitchen, but he could feel Aaron’s eyes on him. He couldn’t turn to face him: he needed a moment to just shake off the cold sensation that had rushed over him at his sister’s seemingly innocent words. Then he felt a hand gently fall onto his leg just above his knee and a squeeze of reassurance. Turning to Aaron, he offered him a smile: it was forced and Aaron would probably see right through it, but he didn’t want to ruin their evening and he certainly didn’t want to start trying to explain himself.

“Let’s get this table cleared, shall we?” he said as he stood up. “Then you can have that game of Fifa.”

He fixed the smile onto his face as he carried a few glasses through to the kitchen and Vic immediately started talking again, thankfully about a different topic.

***

The rest of the evening had been pleasant. They’d moved into the living room so Aaron and Adam could have their game and Vic had kept up a seemingly constant stream of chatter. But Robert knew he’d been quieter than earlier on in the evening. Victoria asked him if he was alright, but he waved off her concern, telling her he was just tired after a long couple of days at work.

They’d said their ‘goodnights’ and headed back to the apartment, with Robert driving, but hardly saying a word. He didn’t want to make things awkward; he didn’t want Aaron to think something was wrong; he didn’t want to make a big deal out of something that was so irrelevant and unimportant: he just didn’t know what to say. Vic’s comment about their dad had unsettled him and he was almost afraid to think about the reasons why. In reality, he knew why: he just didn’t want to face it. He hadn’t thought about his father for quite some time - safer not to poke at that painful bruise - but every so often something would bring the man, and his feelings towards his son, crashing back into Robert’s head.

When they got home, Aaron kissed him on the cheek and quietly told him he was going to get a shower. Robert had smiled weakly and nodded, telling him he’d be through in a bit so they could get to bed.

He’d found himself standing at the floor to ceiling window in the living room of the apartment, staring out at the city lights. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, how long he’d been staring at nothing in particular, but suddenly there were strong arms wrapping around his waist and a warm body pressing against his back.

“Robert?” Aaron murmured against his shoulder.

“Sorry,” he said immediately. “Time for bed?”

Aaron pressed his nose against Robert’s shoulder and drew in a deep breath. “You’ve been standing here for ages. What’s wrong?”

Robert turned in his arms and looked at him. “Nothing,” he replied simply. “Just lost track of time.” He dropped a quick kiss to Aaron’s forehead before he stepped away from his embrace and moved towards the bedroom.

“You can talk to me, you know?”

He heard Aaron’s quiet words and he stumbled over his own feet a little. Turning back to face him, he forced the same fake smile onto his face from earlier on in the evening. “I’m fine. There’s nothing to talk about.”

Aaron frowned at him and looked like he wanted to say something else, but he swallowed whatever it was back down and followed Robert towards their bedroom.

Once they were in their room, Robert slipped his jacket off and hung it back in the wardrobe. He moved on autopilot, unaware of Aaron’s concerned gaze watching him.

“You’ve been quiet tonight,” Aaron said softly from his position leaning back against the headboard on their bed.

“Have I?” Robert asked as he briefly glanced over his shoulder at him. Turning back to the wardrobe, he started unbuttoning his shirt.

“After Vic mentioned your dad,” Aaron added and then there was silence, like they were both aware that there was something foreboding about his words and they were waiting for something to happen.

Robert turned to him. He opened his mouth to respond but no words came out. Instead his shoulders slumped and he walked to the bed where he sat down on the edge, his back to Aaron.

Neither of them spoke for what seemed like a long time.

“Robert?” Aaron asked quietly.

“He wouldn’t have been proud,” Robert announced suddenly.

A beat of silence followed before Aaron replied. “What do you mean?”

“My dad,” Robert clarified. “He wouldn’t have been proud of me. All this.” He waved his hand around vaguely to demonstrate what he was referring to. “No matter how hard I’ve worked or what I’ve achieved. It wouldn’t have been good enough. Not for him. Because I’m still me - the disappointment.”

The bed dipped behind Robert as Aaron moved towards him immediately. He shuffled across it on his knees until he was sitting beside him, pressed together from shoulder to knee. The solidity of Aaron next to him was welcome: it felt a lot like a much-needed anchor in a storm that had been brewing for some time.

“Don’t talk about yourself like that,” Aaron told him. “You’re amazing. You’ve been so successful and you have so much ahead of you.” He placed a hand on Robert’s knee as he spoke and Robert glanced down at it for a moment and sighed deeply.

Looking back up, Robert smiled weakly at him. “It wouldn’t be enough. And this...me being with you...being in a relationship with a man...he’d have hated that. He just...he didn’t want a son like me.”

Aaron drew in a sharp breath, but didn’t pull away. “He knew you weren’t straight? You came out to him?”

Robert huffed out a bitter laugh and shook his head. “Didn’t have a chance to - probably never would’ve. But, yeah, he knew. Made sure I knew what he thought about it too.”

He felt Aaron tense beside him, squeezing his knee. “What happened?”

“When I was fifteen, he caught me...with this lad that worked on the farm. We were in my room and my dad walked in...caught us...the look on his face was...well, I’ll never forget it. He sacked the lad and gave me a leathering - kept going on about how I’d been skiving but I knew what it was for. He never mentioned it again but he couldn’t look at me for weeks.” He sighed heavily and stared down at his hands where they were clasped between his legs. “Just another way that I was a disappointment to him.”

Neither of them moved or said anything for a long moment and then Aaron wrapped his arm around Robert’s shoulders. “You are not a disappointment, Robert. Whatever he might have thought - he was wrong. He didn’t know you...not like I do. He obviously couldn’t see how amazing you are.”

Robert’s head, still hanging low, shook slowly at Aaron’s words. How could he believe that? When his own father had all but chased him away from his family home?

“Trust me when I say I know it’s hard not to believe something when you’ve been told it enough times, or seen that look in someone’s eyes over and over, but please listen to me...you’re not a disappointment. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. If you were all the things he made you believe you were, we wouldn’t be here now because you wouldn’t have made the effort and you wouldn’t have made me fall in love with you,” Aaron told him earnestly.

Robert looked up at him slowly, still looking unsure, his chin wobbling a little with the force of the emotion he was trying to contain. For a moment, the expression on Aaron’s face told Robert that maybe he understood Robert’s desire to find Gordon so he could face punishment for what he’d done to his son: Aaron looked like he’d be willing to resurrect Robert’s father just to kill him again.

“I love you,” Aaron said forcefully when their eyes finally settled on one another. The anger after hearing Robert’s words faded from Aaron’s face, but the passion was still there. “I love you,” he repeated, his hand coming up to cup Robert’s cheek, his thumb gently stroking over his cheekbone.

Robert’s lips twitched upwards at the corners slightly. “I love you too.” He blew out another long breath, shuddering a little on the exhale. “I spent so long thinking that I had to live a life that would’ve been good enough for him. Thinking I had to make him proud, even after he died. But now...I just want to be...me.”

“And that’s more than enough,” Aaron told him immediately.

Robert leant a little closer to Aaron, his lips parted as his eyes roamed over Aaron’s face. He couldn’t put into words how much he loved the man in front of him: he wouldn’t even know where to start.

Aaron’s fingers threaded through his hair as he looked back at him, concern still lingering in his eyes. He took Robert’s hand with his other one.

“Vic obviously doesn’t know...about what happened,” he said quietly.

Immediately, Robert shook his head. “I’ve never told anyone. Vic...she had a different relationship with our dad. She has such good memories of him - I don’t want to ruin that for her.”

Sadness shone in Aaron’s eyes as he looked at Robert steadily. His fingers were still in Robert’s hair and he pulled him closer with his hand, pressing a soft kiss against his lips. When he pulled back, it was just far enough that he could look into Robert’s eyes. “You’re a good man,” he murmured.

Robert closed his eyes and took a moment to let his racing thoughts calm. His mind had been in turmoil since Vic’s words earlier in the evening. It had been a long time since he’d allowed himself to think about his father and his opinions about him. He’d found, over the years, that it just wasn’t worth opening that can of worms, so he’d buried his hurt and insecurities and anger as far down as he could.

It wasn’t that his father had been a monster, or that they’d never shared any good times, but their relationship had just grown more and more strained as time had gone on and the overriding memories had become negative. The good outweighed and tainted by the crushing weight of the disappointment that Robert had seen in his father’s eyes every time he’d looked at him.

When he’d left the village where he’d grown up, because his dad had practically forced him to, he’d had no idea what he was going to do and no-one to help him. Admittedly his situation hadn’t been as dire as Aaron’s had been when he’d found himself alone and homeless, but he’d still been scared. But something had driven him on: something had forced him to keep going and not give up. The idea of proving his father wrong - of showing him, and everyone else that had ever doubted him, that he wasn’t a waste of space, and he could achieve the things he set his mind to - motivated him more than anything else. His first successful deal had been a moment of sheer elation and pride, but then he’d realised it wasn’t enough. If he wanted to prove everyone wrong, he needed to do more; he needed to make more money; he needed to have more.

Somewhere along the way, he’d become consumed with it all. His desire to be successful meant he didn’t care who he stepped on to get what he wanted.

In the end, it hadn’t even mattered. Before he’d ever had chance to return home and shove his wealth and his newfound status in his father’s face, he’d heard that his dad had died. He hadn’t known how to feel about it, hadn’t really dealt with it properly, but he hadn’t let it stop him.

He’d wanted to prove himself to his father: his death meant that wasn’t possible. But Robert was so focused on his work that it didn’t matter anymore. He still wanted to prove himself and every time he secured a deal or the money rolled into his bank account, he’d felt that swell of pride at his own success. Money had become his comfort.

And he’d thought that was all he needed. After a while, it hadn’t even been about his dad anymore: it was just about money and power and getting what he wanted.

Until Aaron.

Robert gazed at Aaron for a long time. Aaron had changed his life and made him a better, less selfish, person. He’d never realised how much love he could feel for someone else.

“I just...” he started, but trailed off. He didn’t quite know how to put his feelings into words. Usually he had all the right words for every situation, but he’d found more and more often when it came to Aaron that he didn’t quite know how to vocalise what was going on his head. He blew out a long shuddering breath. “I just want to be myself now - with you.”

Smiling softly at him, Aaron leant forward and closed the distance between them. Their lips met and Robert almost sighed into the gentle kiss.

When Aaron pulled away, he lingered close in Robert’s space. “Come to bed,” he murmured.

Robert nodded slowly, a tiny smile tugging at his lips. He finished pulling his clothes off and dropped them into the laundry basket, before sliding into bed and straight into Aaron’s arms. Closing his eyes, Robert felt some of the tension from earlier on in the evening fade. It felt strangely freeing to have spoken to Aaron about his dad. It wasn’t like all of his issues with his father were suddenly fixed - he doubted they ever would be - but it was a relief to have told someone and not been judged or blamed or told he was wrong to feel how he did.

Aaron tugged him ever so slightly closer as though he could read what was going on in Robert’s head. “I love you,” he said quietly.

Something loosened a little more in Robert’s chest at the words. Each time he heard them, he felt a little bit luckier. “I love you too,” he whispered.

***

“I’m not saying I want to give you the money, but I still think a loan would work,” Robert said. It wasn’t the first time he’d made the suggestion, but he knew what response he’d get. “You could get something much nicer and just pay me back when you’re ready.”

Aaron huffed out a frustrated sigh. “Robert...we’ve been through this. I don’t want a loan. I don’t want to owe you. I want to do this for myself. I’ve been saving up.”

Robert smiled and shook his head a little. He’d heard Aaron’s words before. They’d had the conversation as soon as Aaron had announced that he wanted to buy a car.

Thinking with his wallet, Robert had immediately started planning a surprise for Aaron - a sporty hatchback with a hefty price tag was top of his shopping list - but one word from Aaron had stopped him in his tracks.

Aaron had insisted that he didn’t want Robert buying him a car. He wanted to pay for it himself and he wouldn’t budge on the issue. Robert had tried to get around it by suggesting it bought it as a birthday/Christmas present, but the look on Aaron’s face had been enough to silence him on the subject. That was until Aaron had started showing him cars that he’d found on his phone, all for sale for under a grand, and Robert had been utterly appalled. That was when he’d come up with the loan idea and he’d done his best to persuade Aaron that it was the perfect solution. But Aaron wouldn’t be swayed: he was adamant that he was going to do this for himself. And he made it clear that if Robert tried to interfere and turned up with a flashy, brand new car for him, there would be trouble. Robert wasn’t entirely sure what kind of trouble but he didn’t want to take the risk, so had admitted defeat.

He’d supposed that he should be pleased that Aaron had let him help him out and buy him some driving lessons. Having run away from home as a teenager, Aaron had never had any proper lessons and had chance to take his test. He knew the basics and found that he didn’t need that many lessons before he was able to take his test, but he’d needed that before he could even consider looking to buy himself a car. Robert had somehow managed to convince him to let him ‘treat him’ to the lessons, but that was where the paying for things had ended.

“I know,” Robert replied. “But I don’t like the idea of you driving around in some old banger.”

“Everyone starts out with a banger,” Aaron told him. “And anyway, it’s not that bad.”

He looked back at the twelve year old, black Volkswagen Golf sitting before him and grinned. “This is the one,” he declared.

Robert was torn between thinking how adorable Aaron looked with the excited smile on his face and how worried he was that the engine was going to fall out of the bottom of the car seeing as it had already done nearly two hundred thousand miles. He didn’t say that though: he wouldn’t ruin Aaron’s pleasure at choosing his first car and ultimately handing over his hard earned cash to pay for it.

For an outsider looking in, it would probably seem a little daft to be so chuffed about something so naff. The car wasn’t exactly flashy and Robert had serious doubts about its life expectancy, but Aaron was proud of himself. He’d worked hard for the money and was finally able to put it towards something he wanted. He’d missed out on the opportunity to do something that so many teenagers across the country took for granted: he deserved the chance to enjoy it now.

After Aaron had handed over the money, organised the paperwork and finally received the keys for the vehicle, Robert pulled him close and pressed a quick kiss to the side of his head as they stood looking at the car. It seemed funny to see it parked alongside Robert’s sparkling Audi, but it was going to become a common sight in the parking garage at the apartment.

“Race you home,” Aaron teased, beaming smile on his face as he clutched his keys.

“Boy racer,” Robert replied with a smirk as he nudged Aaron with his hip. He watched as Aaron climbed into his new car and started it up. “I’ll follow you,” he added before Aaron pulled the door shut. He wanted to follow Aaron just in case he broke down on the way back, but he didn’t say that out loud - he didn’t want to burst Aaron’s bubble.

They made it back to the apartment without needing to call The AA and parked their cars in the underground car park beneath the building. The security team on the garage entrance had raised their eyebrows at Aaron driving the rather throaty sounding Golf inside, especially when Robert had driven in right behind him. The men nodded at both of them in recognition, despite the looks of mild confusion on their faces at the sight, and Robert wondered if they were going to be officially ‘bringing down the neighbourhood’ from now on, but he found that he didn’t care. Aaron was happy - he was proud of himself - so Robert didn’t care if any of the other wealthy residents turned their noses up. Maybe one day the Golf would become a classic like his Porsche. That was what he told himself as he clambered out of his Audi and stood watching Aaron smile at his new car.

They’d hardly been upstairs for an hour when Aaron announced that he needed to go out again. Robert got the feeling it wasn’t that he needed to go out, rather that he wanted to take his car out for a spin. Sensing that Aaron might like to go and enjoy his newfound freedom on his own, Robert made an excuse about needing to make some calls for work. Aaron didn’t even question it as he pressed a kiss to Robert’s cheek before grabbing his keys and disappearing out of the door.

He’d been gone for ages and Robert had been beginning to wonder if Aaron had enjoyed his new sense of independence so much that he’d just driven off into the sunset, when he’d heard the telltale sound of Aaron’s key scraping in the front door and he’d wandered in looking like the cat that got the cream. Robert’s heart had stuttered a little at the sight: he wasn’t sure whether it was from pleasure at seeing Aaron so happy or relief that his ridiculous musings, which had started to twist into actual concern, about Aaron driving away and never returning had been all for nothing. Maybe it was a combination of both. The idea of losing Aaron was too awful to contemplate any further, so he’d quickly pushed it aside and asked Aaron how the car was behaving.

They’d spent the evening watching TV and eating the pasta that Robert had made from scratch (and Aaron ‘helped’ prepare) and then they’d headed off to their room.

Robert had had a quick shower and then flopped down onto the bed on top of the covers while Aaron disappeared into the en-suite for his own shower and by the time Aaron emerged, Robert was ready to fall asleep. He thought that maybe he’d been nodding off, face smushed into his pillow as he lay half on his front, when he heard the en-suite door open and Aaron wander out.

He could hear Aaron pottering about somewhere in the room and then everything went quiet. Lifting his eyelid and tilting his head to look down the bed, he found Aaron standing there gazing at him with his bottom lip pulled between his teeth. Aaron’s eyes were slowly tracing the line of his body and Robert felt a shudder of want pass through him: he was definitely awake again now.

Knowing exactly what he was doing, he slowly bent his right leg up further so his black boxers stretched tight around the curve of his arse cheek. He heard the little breath leave Aaron and smiled to himself.

“You do this on purpose,” Aaron muttered, almost too quietly for Robert to hear and he wondered if Aaron was just thinking out loud. Either way, his smiled widened as he felt the end of the bed dip as Aaron clambered up behind him.

The hand loosely gripping his left ankle made him jump slightly and then goosebumps rose on his skin as Aaron’s fingers trailed up his calf and lightly danced across the delicate skin at the back of his knee. Aaron’s fingers continued their journey, tickling the hairs on the back of Robert’s thigh as they neared the hem of his boxers. He shuddered and could feel his dick thickening up where it was still pressed against the mattress as Aaron’s fingers traced the line of where his boxers met his thigh. Aaron’s other hand reached up and mirrored the action at the waistband of Robert’s underwear before his fingers slipped beneath and peeled the material down slowly, stretching it across Robert’s arse and down. Then Aaron leant over him, smoothing his hands across Robert’s cheeks before he lowered his face and nipped at the skin of Robert’s right arse cheek.

It was half a laugh and half a hiss of pain at the sting from Aaron’s teeth that Robert let out, but he hummed as if to say ‘that’s more like it’ when Aaron’s tongue soothed the same patch of skin he’d just bitten.

“That was for teasing me,” Aaron told him.

Robert huffed out another laugh and craned his neck to peer over his shoulder at where Aaron was still focused on his bum.

“I just needed to know for sure,” he said quietly.

Aaron immediately lifted his head and locked eyes with Robert. His frown told Robert that he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

Robert sighed heavily. “You can tell me the truth, you know. I can take it.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Do you love that car more than you love me?”

Aaron’s eyebrows rose and he looked less than impressed. Playfully, he slapped Robert’s arse cheek and shook his head. “You idiot - I was really worried then!” But he was smiling as he shook his head, so Robert knew he wasn’t too annoyed.

“I just needed to check that you still wanted me,” he laughed. He rolled onto his back, his boxers still awkwardly pulled halfway down, and tugged a grumbling Aaron closer so he was hovering over him. “I thought I’d got real competition!”

“Shut up!” Aaron said, but he was laughing.

“You’re the one who wanted some alone time with it,” Robert replied. “You can’t blame me for being jealous.”

“You really are an idiot,” Aaron told him. He smiled fondly down at Robert, but then his face became more serious. “There’s only you,” he said quietly.

Robert blinked up at him, taking a moment to allow the words to sink in so he could revel in them. He reached up a hand and stroked it through the hair at the side of Aaron’s head. “I love you, so much,” he said quietly.

Aaron leant down and pressed his lips against Robert’s, sinking down a little so their chests were flush together. As he licked into Robert’s mouth, his fingertips traced his jawline and down to his neck. His hips thrust down and Robert’s own bucked up in response, both of them chasing the friction.

Gasping for breath, Robert tore his mouth away, his lips parted as he blinked up at Aaron.

“Show me there’s only me,” he murmured. “I want to feel you - I want you inside me.”

Aaron’s eyes darkened with lust as he gazed down at Robert.

The first time Robert had asked Aaron to fuck him, Aaron had looked like he’d practically swallowed his own tongue. The shock and desire had been so vividly written across his face.

He’d stumbled over asking Robert if he was sure and Robert had been a little concerned that he’d asked for something that Aaron didn’t want to give. But Aaron had quickly reassured him that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to - far from it - but rather that things had been rather one-sided in that department for pretty much Aaron’s whole experience so he’d just been shocked by the suggestion. Shocked but definitely up for it (in every possible way).

They’d both got over that awkward few moments and both of them had been extremely glad they had. And since then they had both been more than willing to repeat the experience.

Tugging his bottom lip between his teeth, Aaron nodded quickly. He reached over to the nightstand, yanking open the drawer so he could pull out what they’d be needing before he moved back to hover over Robert again.

Blinking up at him, Robert couldn’t help but think that Aaron was the best thing he’d ever seen. Having Aaron there, looking down at him with so much heat - and so much love - in his eyes, was something Robert still hardly believed was real. He could hardly believe he’d got so lucky.

After a long moment where neither of them moved, Aaron dipped towards him and kissed him again. His hand ran up Robert’s arm, across his shoulder and to his neck, where his thumb traced the line of his jaw as his fingers gently curled around the side of his neck. As Robert’s lips parted, Aaron licked into his mouth.

The two of them couldn’t get enough. They pressed together desperately: hips rolling, hands exploring skin they knew so well, mouths only parting to gasp in pleasure.

Aaron moved onto his side, still pressed close against Robert. His thigh slid between Robert’s, nudging his legs further apart. One hand stayed cupped around his neck as he continued to kiss Robert. Then his hand trailed down his chest as he moved his mouth to Robert’s neck and kissed the sensitive skin there knowing it would drive Robert crazy.

Sometimes Robert had no idea how Aaron managed to be so good at transforming him into a completely turned on mess, and sometimes he wondered how he could catch him off guard so totally. Because without Robert realising it, Aaron had slicked up a finger and was teasing at his arse with it. Sucking in a surprised breath, he locked eyes with Aaron who seemed very pleased with himself as he raised an eyebrow and then pushed his finger against the ring of muscle with more intent. Robert shuffled a little, allowing his thighs to fall further apart, and he drew in another breath as Aaron’s finger breached him.

Aaron’s eyes raked over the length of Robert’s body until he focused on where his own hand was working fitted against his arse. Robert felt the heat of his gaze travel over him, almost like a physical flush warming him and making his skin prickle with desire. He groaned low as Aaron’s finger moved in and out of him, and then sighed as he felt the slight stretch of a second finger joining the first.

Moments like this were so mind-blowing for Robert. He’d been alone for a long time, having random hook-ups, often with people he’d met that night, and not feeling anything. Sure, he’d got off, had a good time, but he’d never felt cared for or cherished in the way he did with Aaron. Their sex-life had been amazing from the first moment - the physical spark between them had always been there - but that had translated into something so much more, so much better. He’d never had someone look at him the way Aaron did - like he wanted to devour him, but at the same time worship him and love him and want to hold him after everything was done. Robert revelled in the feeling of it. The weight of Aaron’s gaze as he looked down at him, the care he took with him, the fact that he was just as turned on as Robert - it all made Robert feel complete in ways he never thought possible.

His soft thoughts were derailed by Aaron’s fingers grazing against his prostate and then all he could think was ‘Aaron...yes...please’ as Aaron crooked his fingers again before he pulled them out and then pressed in again with three.

The stretch of it was a perfect burn and Robert rocked his hips down to meet Aaron’s hand, groaning as Aaron yet again found that place within him.

“Aaron,” he gasped, “Aaron...please. I’m ready. I need you.”

Aaron drew in his own breath at the words before he pulled his hand away and leant over to capture Robert’s lips in a searing kiss again. Then he manoeuvred himself between Robert’s legs and grabbed a pillow to shove beneath Robert’s lower back.

Leaning forwards over Robert, he shuffled closer and Robert immediately lifted his legs so he could bring them up around Aaron. He loved it like that: he wanted to be able to see Aaron and watch his face as he came apart. And he’d never admit it, but he wasn’t as flexible as he once had been, so bending his neck to steal a kiss when Aaron was behind him wasn’t as easy as he’d have liked and he couldn’t resist the temptation to kiss Aaron whenever they were shagging.

With Robert’s legs around him, Aaron quickly took the lube in his hand, squeezing more out, and stroked his hand over his cock to coat it before he tossed it back onto the bed and gripped himself firmly. Moving forward, the tip of his dick pressed against Robert and, with a steadiness that Robert admired when he knew he’d be desperate to feel the overwhelmingly amazing heat and pressure, he pushed inside. The drag of it, the feeling of being filled, had Robert drawing in a breath and then holding it as Aaron settled inside him completely. Blowing it out slowly, he looked up at Aaron and their eyes met.

“Alright?” Aaron whispered gruffly.

Robert loved the sound of his voice like that: rough and clearly turned on and trying his best to hold back when he desperately wanted to just let go.

“Yeah,” Robert replied, his voice just as ragged. “More than.”

Aaron huffed out a tiny breath, a smile on his face. And then he moved, pulling almost all the way out before rocking his hips forward again slowly.

They’d only just begun and Robert could already feel his toes curling.

Aaron began to move in a steady rhythm, slowly at first - almost infuriatingly so, as Robert wanted nothing more than to feel Aaron deep inside him, but at the same time he wanted to draw the feeling out as long as possible. It was the ultimate win-win situation - they were going to get there either way, it just depended on how long they could last. The slow drag of Aaron’s dick had Robert groaning low in his chest as their skin started to glow with sweat, and his sounds seemed to spur Aaron on as he picked up a slightly faster rhythm.

Leaning over Robert, Aaron ran his tongue across his jaw and then continued down to his neck where he pressed his lips to the soft, sweat-covered flesh of his throat, sucking on the skin and causing a shudder to rush through Robert.

Slightly changing the angle of his movements caused a sudden gasp to fall from Robert’s lips: they were parted as he drew in deep breaths. His chest was rising and falling rapidly as Aaron continued to thrust into him at the same perfect angle he’d discovered.

Aaron shifted his position a little and when Robert looked up at him, he found Aaron dragging his lower lip between his teeth, a tiny perfectly content smile curling his mouth, his eyes closed, and a look of total bliss on his face as he continued moving above him. It was almost like he couldn’t believe he was there with Robert and the look on his face sent Robert’s heart soaring. It was utter perfection.

‘He’s so beautiful,’ he thought to himself and he reached up to hold the back of Aaron’s head gently.

“Aaron,” he murmured because he wanted to see his eyes.

And Aaron obliged. He opened his eyes and gazed down at Robert with such heat and passion in them.

“God...Rob,” he breathed out and then bent his head to capture Robert’s lips in a needy kiss, his fingers threading into Robert’s hair.

Reaching between them, Aaron wrapped his other hand around Robert’s cock, stroking it firmly, trying to match the movements of his hips as much as possible. He moved his lips back to Robert’s neck, like he couldn’t resist tasting the skin there and Robert cried out in pleasure at the sensation. He felt like he was going to explode.

“There’s only you,” Aaron murmured against his sweaty neck.

Something wild and powerful and desperate rushed through Robert and he cried out in ecstasy.

“Aaron!” He couldn’t think of anything else, couldn’t formulate anything more than the name of the man he loved. “Aaron...Aaron,” he moaned as he shuddered and came apart. He threw his head back against his pillow and moaned and gasped as his orgasm ripped through him and Aaron kept moving his hand over him and thrusting his cock inside him.

“Fuck,” Aaron ground out. “Fuck...you look...so good.” His hips snapped forward again, pulling another moan from Robert who was beginning to come down from his high but was still shuddering with the after-effects.

With a few more, less-co-ordinated thrusts, Aaron cried out and came. He moved in and out of Robert as he chased the feeling of his orgasm, panting and moaning quietly as his whole body shook from it and then he collapsed against Robert, breathing heavily.

Robert could feel Aaron’s heart thudding wildly against his own chest where they were pressed together and he huffed out a little laugh, almost giddy with the feeling of it.

“Alright?” he asked as he raised a hand to stroke down Aaron’s sweat-covered back.

“Dead,” Aaron replied gruffly. He made no attempt to move.

Robert smiled to himself and rolled his eyes a little. “Guess I’ll leave you here then while I go for a shower. I’ll dispose of your body when I’ve not got jizz all over my chest.”

Aaron laughed at his words and wriggled until he was lying alongside Robert instead of on top of him. “Charming,” he muttered. When Robert turned his head to look at him, Aaron was smiling softly back at him, his face flushed and his hair a mess.

‘I love you, so much,’ Robert thought as he blinked at him. ‘I don’t know what I’d be without you.’

“You’re an idiot,” Aaron told him, obviously referring to his plan to shower first and then deal with his dead body.

“Ah, but you chose to be with me, so what does that make you?” Robert asked with a grin on his face.

Aaron rolled his eyes and shook his head as best as he could against his pillow. “Definitely an idiot,” he replied. “But I can live with that, if you can.”

Robert leant up on his elbow and pressed a kiss to Aaron’s lips. “Gladly,” he said quietly as he pulled away and looked down at him.

The soft smile on Aaron’s face was the perfect agreement.

Chapter Text

“Honey, I’m home!” Robert called enthusiastically as he pushed the door closed behind him.

Aaron rolled his eyes at the fact that he was so daft, but couldn’t complain too much. He loved the fact that Robert was always so pleased to come home to him. More often than not, Robert left his office before it closed if he knew Aaron would be at home. Not all that long ago, he’d been a self-confessed workaholic - obsessed with his work and driven by the need to seal a deal and make his next millions. He’d gone into work before anyone else and been the last to leave. Since finding Aaron, he’d been more than keen to delay his start in a morning and quite willing to close his laptop early and head home, leaving Jimmy or Leyla or someone else to finish up for the day, if Aaron’s shift had finished or he’d had a day off.

‘Perks of being the boss,’ he’d say whenever Aaron wondered how he’d managed to get away again. And Aaron wasn’t complaining: the knowledge that Robert wanted to rush home to spend time with him just made him feel all the more loved.

And it wasn’t like Robert’s business wasn’t doing well. It was obvious that he’d been a little concerned after he’d scrapped the deal with the Whites to turn the homeless shelter into a luxury apartment complex in favour of keeping it as a sanctuary for those who needed it the most. It had been a brave move - driven by the realisation, thanks to Aaron, that money wouldn’t make him happy - and in terms of money it had been incredibly costly. But it hadn’t just been about the money: the Whites were not impressed by Robert pulling out of the deal at almost the last minute and it had been obvious that they would try to ruin his reputation as a decent businessman within the circles they mixed in.

Robert had tried to pretend he wasn’t worried, but Aaron had watched him closely and knew there had been a few weeks of him quietly fretting about it before he’d started working on a new deal with a new client and his concerns had melted away. It would take more than the Whites to ruin him and the business he’d worked so hard to build.

He certainly hadn’t lost his desire to succeed. He still came home buzzing when he’d secured a lucrative contract and he still put the work in to achieve his goals. He’d always be proud of his success and keen to do well, but it was different now. He wasn’t consumed by work and money and deals like he once had been: his life didn’t revolve around schmoozing clients and showing off his wealth. He had more important things in his world now. He had a life outside of work. A life that Aaron had helped create.

Aaron had had a rare, much-needed day off and he wasn’t ashamed to admit he’d spent most of it in bed or on the sofa catching up with all the TV he hadn’t had chance to watch while he’d been so busy or too tired to focus on what was going on.

That morning Robert had grumbled rather sulkily about having to go to work when Aaron was still snuggled up in bed. The irony was that he could have just called Jimmy and told him he wasn’t going in, but, despite his new resolve to be less work-centred, he still couldn’t let go and he certainly wasn’t going to leave Jimmy in charge for too long. When Aaron had sleepily reminded him of that, Robert had dragged himself out of their bed and got ready for his day. He’d pressed a soft kiss to Aaron’s forehead, gently combing his fingers through his hair, before he’d quietly walked out of their room. Aaron had barely been awake enough to mumble a ‘goodbye’.

He’d taken advantage of the stars aligning and providing him with a day with no commitments - the first in quite a while. His day had been exactly what he’d needed: quiet, restful and slow. The only thing that would have improved it would be having Robert lazing around with him all day, but he supposed he’d have had less rest if Robert had been there.

Despite his tiredness, Aaron loved working.

He’d started volunteering at the homeless shelter almost as soon as he and Robert had started seeing one another again. At Aaron’s request, Robert had taken him down to the shelter to visit one afternoon, and Aaron had been blown away by what he’d seen. Not least because Robert was welcomed like a hero. The staff working there were all genuinely excited to see him and gushed to Aaron about how generous Robert was. Robert had actually looked rather embarrassed by all of the attention and fuss - which Aaron quietly found pretty adorable - and had excused himself to go and speak to some of the new counsellors that had been employed with his funding.

Aaron had been in awe of how fast things had moved at the shelter, how many improvements had already been made, but then he’d reminded himself that he shouldn’t have been: when Robert set his mind to something to do with his money, he got results and quickly.

Aaron had been so impressed, and felt like the shelter meant so much to him personally, that he’d offered some of his time to the place and he’d ended up dropping in a few times a week to serve up meals or talk to some of the people using the shelter or use his own experiences to help in any way he could. He couldn’t wave a magic wand for any of the people there. He couldn’t promise them that someone like Robert would come along and turn their world upside down in the best possible way. But he knew from his own time on the streets that sometimes just knowing someone out there cared or would listen to you or not look down their nose at you made all the difference.

After he’d been volunteering, he’d realised that he could at least put that down on his application forms for jobs. It had taken a few months after he’d started living with Robert, but eventually he’d managed to get himself a job at Asda. Getting the phone call to tell him he’d got the job was a moment of sheer pride. And he knew to anyone else it would probably seem daft, but he was proud of himself. For the first time in his life, he was going to be earning money in a way that he could be proud of.

It was hard to explain how he felt about his life before Robert. It would be too simple to say he felt ashamed of his time as a rent-boy. He had done what he’d needed to do to survive: he wasn’t proud of it, certainly didn’t want to broadcast it to the world, but it meant he was still alive. What other options had he had?

But that was all in the past. He didn’t need to worry about where his next meal was going to come from, or whether he’d have a roof over his head that night, or if Tracy’s flat would get broken into again while they were out working. He was so lucky to have moved on from that life.

So he wasn’t ashamed. But for the first time he was proud.

He’d decided to keep up his voluntary work at the shelter. It meant a lot to him. Even when he came home shattered after a day at work and then a few hours in the evening at the shelter, he could still smile. His time at the shelter felt so meaningful, especially since he knew exactly how it felt to be in the shoes of some of the people there. Even though it was emotionally draining at times, and frustrating because not everyone wanted help, it was worthwhile. And he got to come home to Robert every night - something that he planned to never take advantage of. He didn’t think Robert knew how much he was loved: he didn’t think he’d ever be able to capture it in words.

It was Robert who had handed him the pamphlet for a night course at the local college: a mechanic training programme. He’d not wanted to give Aaron too much to do, but he’d also not wanted him to miss out on an opportunity to develop his skills and maybe gain a career from it.

Aaron had been so touched by Robert’s thoughtfulness (and had thanked him thoroughly that evening) and had immediately enquired about a place on the course. He’d been accepted and had added that to his already busy schedule. It had meant he’d had to drop some hours at the shelter, but he’d made sure he left time to get down there and help out.

With dreams of one day opening his own garage, the hard work was worth it.

Sometimes he worried that he and Robert wouldn’t find enough time for one another in amongst everything they were working on, but they were making it work. They’d always find a way to be there for one another.

“Miss me?” Robert asked as he hung up his jacket.

“Why? Have you been out?” Aaron replied with a cheeky smile and a shrug, before he walked over and pressed a quick peck to Robert’s lips.

Robert grabbed his arm and pulled him close for a proper kiss. “And here was me planning to make you a nice meal,” he said as he leaned back and frowned at Aaron. “But I’ve come home to nothing but cheek.”

Aaron tapped his chest lightly with his fingers. He tilted his head to the side slightly as he looked up at him. “Shouldn’t I be cooking for you? You’ve been at work all day.”

Robert raised his eyebrow. “Think it’s probably safer if I cook, don’t you?”

“Rude,” Aaron replied, “but accurate, to be fair.”

“Cooking’s not your strength - unless it’s toast - nobody’s perfect,” Robert told him as he nodded once before slipping out of Aaron’s arms and heading towards the kitchen. Aaron couldn’t help but stare at his bum as he went - he was wearing a pair of tailored trousers that hugged his arse in the best possible way, and Aaron always liked to admire the view when Robert was dressed in his expensive clothes: there were many advantages to having a lot of money, he’d decided. Biting his lower lip, he followed Robert into the kitchen.

Robert had been in charge of preparing their meal, but Aaron had helped - he’d insisted that was what he was doing when he kept pressing himself against Robert or licking his lips or humming with pleasure when Robert asked him to sample the sauce - and they’d spent the time catching up on their days: Robert’s, as busy as always; Aaron’s, less so.

After they’d eaten, Aaron carried the plates back to the kitchen and started loading the dishwasher. He was already looking forward to getting into bed, despite the fact that he’d spent all day lazing around - half of it in bed - but this time he wouldn’t be alone and that made it appealing in an entirely different way.

He straightened up from his task, shutting the door of the dishwasher and then jumped a little at the feeling of arms wrapping around him and a solid body pressing up against him.

Leaning back, he sighed as Robert pressed his lips to his neck. A shudder rippled through him: he loved having his neck kissed and Robert knew as much.

“So,” Robert murmured, his warm breath tickling the patch of skin he’d just had his mouth on. His arms were still wrapped around Aaron’s waist. “I have this event that I need to attend...and I’d really like my boyfriend there to support me.”

Immediately stiffening, Aaron turned in his arms to face him. “You git,” he said with a frown, hoping Robert would see how unimpressed he was. “Was cooking tea all part of your evil scheme to get me to agree?”

Robert pouted at him and tried his best to look innocent. “I am hurt that you would suggest that it was some sort of bribery. Deeply hurt.”

“Rob,” Aaron said as he arched his eyebrows.

Robert smiled hopefully at him. “You see, it’s an important event - lots of local businessmen and women will be there, as well as plenty from around the country. It’s always good to mingle, make new connections. And the bloke I’m hoping to get signing on the dotted line on a massive contract will be there and it’s a perfect opportunity to work on him away from the office, somewhere more relaxed so he’s not so stuffy and I can win him over to agreeing on a few more points.”

Aaron still wasn’t convinced. “So you’ll be really busy and you don’t need me there. I’ll just be in the way.”

Robert shook his head. “No, you see, I need you there because you’re in my corner. You make me look good and you’re so good at reading people. Plus, when I’m bored of chatting business, I love having you right there to distract me.”

Robert ran his hands up Aaron’s arms and rested them on his shoulders.

Aaron frowned. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go or that he didn’t want to support Robert: he loved knowing that Robert wanted him at his side, and that he could do anything he could to help him. And the events he’d been to with Robert weren’t even that bad: good food, good beer and, surprisingly enough, good conversation (sometimes). But he still worried that he was out of place at them, or that someone would ask him a question about business and he’d make a fool of himself or embarrass Robert in some way. Ultimately, he knew Robert would never force him to attend: if he was adamant that he didn’t want to go, Robert would back down, no questions asked. But it seemed they both enjoyed the game they played when Robert had to ‘persuade’ him to join him.

“We went to one last week,” he offered as his next excuse.

Robert chuckled at his words. “It was last month,” he reminded him.

He leant closer to Aaron, pressing himself against him, dropping his hands to grip Aaron’s hips, and then ducked his head to kiss Aaron’s neck. Aaron tried to hold in the groan that wanted to fall from his lips. Pulling back slightly, Robert continued speaking quietly. “In fact it was about six weeks ago if I remember correctly.” As he spoke, he trailed his hand down Aaron’s chest, across his stomach and to the front of his jogging bottoms. Then he palmed at his dick through the material causing Aaron’s hips to involuntarily buck forwards. He cursed his own traitorous cock for giving him away so easily.

“And anyway, there’s a charity auction during the event,” Robert murmured as he slipped his hand inside the waistband of Aaron’s trousers and wrapped his fingers around his erection.

Aaron merely moaned in response. He’d closed his eyes as the pleasure of Robert’s hand on his dick and his lips against his neck had him releasing needy little sighs. If only Robert would stop talking and keep his lips where he wanted them, or better yet, put them to use elsewhere.

“I know how much you like seeing me donating money to good causes,” Robert said quietly, breathing against his ear and making Aaron shudder. “And I always enjoy the rewards of my good deeds.” He dragged his fist up Aaron’s cock, flicking his thumb over the slit and causing Aaron to gasp and grip Robert’s shoulders tightly.

There was really no way that Aaron was going to be able to say no to Robert. He would have agreed to join him anyway because he knew how important it was to his boyfriend, but the bonus of being ‘thanked’ for his agreement definitely made it even more worthwhile. Robert’s hand moving on him and his mouth doing wonderful things had Aaron’s acceptance spilling from his lips easily.

“Yes,” he moaned as Robert kissed his neck again, sucking at the sensitive skin. “Yes, I’ll go.”

He could feel the smile on Robert’s face where his lips were still pressed to his throat.

“God, I love you,” Robert whispered against his neck.

And then he sunk down to his knees in front of Aaron and peeled his jogging bottoms down.

Aaron blinked down at him, a blissed out little smile on his face. ‘Definitely worth it,’ he thought to himself.

***

Aaron wandered out of their bedroom, smoothing down the front of his suit jacket as he went.

“Do you like it?” Robert asked as he turned away from the window to look at him.

“Do you like it is probably the more pressing question,” Aaron replied as he held out his arms a little for Robert to look him over.

Walking over to him, Robert ran his hand down the front of the jacket. “You know what it does to me when you wear a suit,” he said, his voice lower than usual. His eyes roamed Aaron from head to toe. “Especially one as well fitting as this.”

Aaron rolled his eyes. “I still can’t believe you got Leyla to organise another new suit for me. I have more suits in my wardrobe than I’ll ever need.”

“She loves it,” Robert replied easily.

“Yeah, maybe too much. Don’t you think it’s a bit weird that your P.A. uses me as her personal Ken doll?”

Robert laughed as he turned to grab his phone from the dining table. “Leyla takes her work very seriously: she knows I’m a man with discerning taste. And anyway she likes putting you in the suits and I like taking you out of them - everyone’s a winner.”

Aaron shook his head and rolled his eyes again. “And what exactly am I getting out of this situation?”

Robert closed the distance between them and wrapped an arm around his waist. Leaning close to Aaron’s ear he murmured, “Wait ‘til we get home and you’ll see.”

Aaron couldn’t help the shudder that passed through him at the words and Robert’s warm breath against his ear.

“I’ll hold you to that,” he remarked, trying to pretend he wasn’t turned on by the mere suggestion of what was to come.

“I’m counting on it,” Robert said with a laugh. “Oh and before you ask, I’ve sent a cheque to Battersea Dogs for you. I know you go all mushy every time you see that advert on the TV.”

An almost shy smile appeared on Aaron’s face at the words: Robert knew him so well. “Thank you,” he replied quietly, before he took Robert’s offered hand and was led out of the apartment.

While Aaron enjoyed the fact that Robert loved seeing him all dressed up, after the first few suits had been purchased, he’d started to feel bad about all the money he was spending. Of course, Robert had insisted that it didn’t matter, but it hadn’t seemed right to Aaron. Why should he be bought new suits costing hundreds of pounds when there were good causes out there in desperate need of help? They’d almost argued about it, but before it could escalate, Aaron had made a simple suggestion. If Robert insisted on paying for him to have fancy new clothes for the events they attended, he had to make an equal-sized payment to charity every time. Robert had agreed easily and, ever since, he’d stuck to their arrangement. Sometimes he asked Aaron which charity he’d like to donate to, other times he chose something he thought Aaron would appreciate. The fact that he always selected charities that Aaron would have chosen himself was just another thing that blew Aaron’s mind. He couldn’t believe he’d got so lucky as to find someone who knew him so well.

***

They’d been at the event for a couple of hours. It was the usual type of thing: Robert charmed his way around the room, Aaron close by his side. He always introduced Aaron with such pride and such a soft smile on his face that Aaron felt genuinely touched. Some of the people were obviously old clients of Robert’s and they seemed so pleased to see him with a partner. It just reminded Aaron about how lonely Robert had once been: how different his life had been before they met.

The conversation was mostly about business, but some people knew about Robert’s generous payment to the homeless shelter and seemed genuinely interested in the work being done there.  That was when Aaron definitely got involved in the conversations: he was so passionate about it and he was always keen to encourage more support in any way he could. If some wealthy couple decided to send some money to the shelter because of what Aaron told them about all the amazing work going on, then that was a welcome bonus.

It was clear that Robert was in businessman mode but at no point did he make Aaron feel like a spare part. He tried to involve Aaron in conversations as much as possible and sometimes they slipped away to the bar for a moment alone.

The first few times they’d attended any of the posh events, Aaron had felt nervous. Actually, the first times had been when Aaron was working for Robert so that had been different, although he’d still felt completely out of his depth until Robert had reassured him. And then they’d got together seriously and Robert had invited him along, and Aaron had still been concerned that he’d do something wrong or show Robert up or have someone look at him and just know about his past somehow.

But none of those things had ever happened and, while Aaron would never be completely at home in those situations, he didn’t feel out of place anymore. He felt like any of the other partners or spouses that were brought along for support. And he knew for a fact that some of the other people there weren’t all that interested in business: he could tell by their faces.

It didn’t matter to Aaron. He wanted Robert to be happy and he wanted to support him if he could. Giving up a couple of hours to spend doing this wasn’t too much of a hardship. And Robert always found a way to make it worth his while so he couldn’t complain. In fact he was already looking forward to getting home so Robert could show him just how grateful he was.

As the evening wore on, Aaron excused himself from Robert, leaving him chatting away with some old client, and made his way out of the ballroom they were in and down the corridor to the toilets.

As he stood washing his hands, the door opened and another man walked into the toilets. Aaron only glanced up at him briefly before he moved to dry his hands. He was about to walk out of the door when the man spoke.

“It’s Simon, isn’t it?” he asked.

Aaron was sure his heart skipped a beat at the words - because it had been a long time since anyone had called him that name - but he just turned his head slowly and tried to stay calm. He looked at the other man properly and a feeling of dread rushed over him. The man wasn’t entirely unattractive: older, his dark hair peppered more grey than brown; sharp blue eyes; taller than Aaron; an expensive tailored suit.

And Aaron realised with an awful, almost breath-stealing shock, that he recognised him: he knew the man from before.

The other man was smiling slightly at him and there was a knowing look in his eyes. He looked like he was entertained by the fact that he’d encountered Aaron and there was something almost mocking about the curl of his lips.

“No,” Aaron said as he shook his head. “You must have the wrong bloke.”

With that, he pulled the door open and hurried back into the corridor. His hands were shaking so he stuffed them into the pockets of his trousers as he walked.

“Maybe not Simon anymore then?” the man’s voice called from behind him.

Aaron wanted to ignore him; he kept walking: back towards the ballroom, back to Robert. Because this was like something from his nightmares and he needed Robert to anchor him in a reality where this wasn’t happening.

“Does Sugden know he’s brought a rent-boy to the party?”

At the words, Aaron staggered to a halt. He spun around and glared at the man standing in the corridor behind him. Hesitating for a moment, he had no idea what to do: did he confront this head on or retreat to the relative safety of Robert’s side? Eventually, he drew in a deep breath and slowly walked back towards the man.

“What do you want?” he asked gruffly.

The man smiled at him. “Suddenly got your memory back, then?” he asked, his tone teasing. “I seem to recall you were a lot friendlier when we met last time. I suppose that’s how it works, isn’t it? You do you remember me, don’t you? We had some fun, didn’t we, Simon?”

Aaron’s jaw clenched. He did remember him, not because he was anything particularly memorable, but probably because he’d been with him more than once. He wouldn’t have classed the man as a regular, but he’d definitely picked Aaron up a few times.

“I assume he does know what you are?” the man continued. “I didn’t realise you offered an escort service. I might have taken you up on that if I had.”

“It’s not like that,” Aaron ground out. He didn’t want to say too much, afraid that he’d give something away or give this man some further power over him. He didn’t want to have to justify his relationship with Robert.

“Of course,” the man said with a nod, like he and Aaron were sharing a secret. “I’m sure Sugden doesn’t want everyone knowing his business.”

“I need to get back inside,” Aaron said and he began to turn away, only to be stopped by the man’s voice again.

“How are you fixed for ‘catching up’ at some point?” He continued casually, like they were talking about going for a coffee.  “You know, for old time’s sake? When you’ve finished up with Sugden for the night maybe. I could do with some stress relief.”

Aaron’s stomach flipped uncomfortably at the suggestion. Not only that, but the idea that he was only there with Robert because he was paying him made him feel sick. Swallowing thickly, he shook his head.

“I don’t do that anymore,” he replied lowly. He could hardly meet the man’s eyes as he spoke.

“Oh, come on,” the man said with a bitter laugh. “Don’t be shy. You know I’m good for the money, and I’ll be gentle.”

He took a step closer and Aaron immediately took one back. From the corner of his eye, he could see through one of the large windows into the ballroom where the guests were still mingling and the music was playing. He turned for a moment and he caught sight of Robert, still talking quite animatedly to someone, completely unaware of Aaron’s turmoil and disgust.

His eyes snapped back to the man before him when he heard him chuckle to himself.

“Come on,” he urged again. “If I remember rightly, you’re pretty good. I don’t mind paying a bit extra.”

“No,” Aaron said firmly. “I told you. I don’t do that anymore.”

The man’s eyes narrowed as he assessed Aaron. He looked less friendly suddenly.

“People like you don’t change,” he said. “You’ll always be worthless; nothing more than an easy screw, willing to do anything for a few quid.”

Aaron sucked in a sharp breath at the words. They felt like a punch to the gut.

“No,” he forced out. “I’m not...things are different now...I don’t do that.”

The man laughed again. “Of course you don’t. So you’re not here with Sugden because he’s paying you by the hour then?”

Aaron almost shuddered at the words. Less than a year ago, they would have been true: he would have been with Robert at the event because he was being paid. But things were different now: they were different.

“It’s not like that,” he muttered.

The man sneered at him. “Whatever you think is going on with him, you’re living a fantasy. If he hasn’t paid you to be here tonight, I’m guessing he either doesn’t know about you and you’re conning him, or he’ll be bored of you within a couple of weeks when you’ve used all your tricks to keep him sweet.”

Aaron’s hands clenched into fists at his sides. This man was so wrong. How dare he insult their relationship like that?

He didn’t want to cause a scene, but he’d have loved to wipe the smirk off the man’s face. He wouldn’t do that to Robert: he wouldn’t ruin his evening or make him look like a fool in front of so many people he dealt with. Glancing back inside the ballroom and finding Robert again, he wanted nothing more than to go to him and ask him if they could leave. When they got home, he’d explain everything that had happened and how it made him feel. He wanted Robert to wrap him up in a hug and tell him everything would be alright.

“I can see why you like him,” the man’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “He’s young, very handsome, and filthy rich. I don’t blame you for wanting to spend time with him.”

Aaron glared at the man and watched as he looked through the window at Robert. His eyes very obviously trailed over Robert and he gave Aaron a knowing smirk when he looked back at him. It made Aaron’s skin crawl.

Suddenly, Aaron’s mind flashed back to his encounters with this man. He remembered how he was always pushing for something more, always trying to see how far Aaron would be willing to go to earn his money. And when he looked at him, he saw him for the predator he was. He wondered how many others had gone with this man and been subjected to something awful. He wondered if his own tenacity and often seemingly abrupt manner had saved him from something unthinkable. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed it at the time and why he’d allowed himself to be picked up by the man more than once when he was so clearly an arrogant, abusive prick.

“You know, maybe you could tempt him to join us. The three of us could have some fun,” the man suggested.

If Aaron felt disgusted before, it was nothing to how appalled he was by the idea. It took everything he had to stay calm and not let his rage take over in that moment.

“You stay away from him,” he demanded. The idea of this man anywhere near Robert - trying to charm his way around him, chatting supposedly harmlessly about business, buying him drinks and watching as Robert became vulnerable - made him feel sick to his stomach.

The man laughed suddenly. “That might be difficult seeing as your sugar daddy is the one chasing me for a deal.”

The words cut through Aaron and he felt himself sag a little in shock. He blew out a breath and shook his head slightly. Backing away, he eventually turned and rushed back into the ballroom. He had to get away: he had to get them both away from this place. And then he had to tell Robert everything and make sure he stayed away from that man.

Quickly, he located Robert and rushed to him.

“Robert...” he said, completely interrupting the conversation that Robert was having with a couple. He knew it was rude, but he hoped that Robert would understand.

“Aaron? What are you doing?” Robert asked in complete bewilderment.

“Robert!” a voice called out from behind Aaron and his eyes widened as the man he’d been desperate to get away from approached Robert and stuck out his hand like they were old friends.

Robert smiled widely at him. “Good to see you, Richard,” he declared as he shook the offered hand enthusiastically. “I was wondering where you’d got to. Didn’t think you’d miss a big event like this.”

“Ah, you know me. Like to make an entrance. I got caught up with some business - you know how it is.” He looked at Aaron and something flashed in his eyes.

Aaron watched him with wide eyes, dreading what was about to happen.

Robert smiled and nodded. He looked at Aaron and wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him forward a little so they were side by side. Aaron had stiffened as Robert had touched him, but if he’d noticed he didn’t show it. “Richard, this is Aaron, my partner. Aaron, this is Richard Thompson - he’s the owner of the company I’ve been telling you about. Hopefully my next client,” he added as he raised his eyebrows dramatically. He gestured to Thompson, and Aaron had no choice but to hold out his own hand to shake the other man’s. He almost shuddered at the touch.

Thompson chuckled. “Ah, Robert. I’m just waiting for you to offer me what I really want and then I’ll sign on the dotted line.” He looked at Aaron then. “You know how it is, don’t want to give everything away too easily.”

Robert laughed at the words, but Aaron knew it wasn’t his genuine laugh - the one he only heard when Robert was with him or people he actually liked spending time with. It was his false, formal, ‘I have to keep you happy’, business laugh.

“Nothing about dealing with you is easy, Richard. Never known anyone drive such a hard bargain,” Robert told him, but he was still smiling.

Thompson shrugged his shoulders. “All’s fair in love and business, so they say. Have to make sure it’s worth it before I get into bed with someone.” His mouth quirked into a smirk and he winked at Robert.

Robert shook his head like he despaired, but it was obviously all part of their dealing and clearly not the first time that Thompson had played hard to get with Robert. The worst part was that Robert didn’t seem to mind the flirtatious comments or the innuendo.

The whole interaction made Aaron’s insides churn. He could feel his hands shaking again and sweat forming under his collar at the back of his neck.

“Excuse me,” Aaron said quietly. “I...um...I just need to...um...go to the bathroom.”

Robert looked at him in concern. He opened his mouth as though he were about to speak, but Thompson interrupted the moment and Robert’s attention went back to him as Aaron slipped away and through the crowd.

If he could have ran through the crowd without causing a fuss, he would have. He thought he might be sick and there was a ringing in his ears that hadn’t been there before.

When he reached the toilets, he dived into the first cubicle and locked the door. His heart was pounding as he dragged in quick, ragged breaths. He loosened his collar a little and slid the suit jacket off before leaning back against the wall of the cubicle. His mind was racing. What was he supposed to do? He had to get out of there. And he needed to think. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t think clearly and he couldn’t stop his brain from picturing awful things and moments from his past that suddenly seemed so much worse, and Robert’s disgusted, hurt face if he told him the truth.

He blew out a long breath to steady his nerves. He had to get himself together. He had to be strong. He could handle this. He could.

Unlocking the door, he walked out and left the toilets. It wasn’t a surprise to see Thompson walking down the corridor towards him. Aaron’s stomach flipped, but he wasn’t going to let his apprehension about how this man could ruin everything show. He turned and walked towards the entrance of the building, in the opposite direction to the ballroom.

When he got outside, he moved away from the doors and stood waiting. He knew he’d be followed.

“So it’s Aaron these days, is it?” Thompson asked as he approached Aaron. He still sounded jovial, like this encounter was perfectly normal.

Aaron lifted his chin a little. He refused to show this man how rattled he was. It was almost like he needed to revert back to how he’d been when he’d been working on the streets. He needed to be tougher, harder. He needed to stand up for himself like he always had before.

“That’s my name,” he said bluntly.

Thompson chuckled. “I’m hurt that you felt the need to lie to me, Aaron.” He laid a hand over his heart and pouted at Aaron.

Hearing his name used by the man before him felt horribly personal. It sent yet another shudder through Aaron. But he didn’t back down.

“You need to leave me alone,” he said. “I’m going to tell Robert everything.”

“That’s funny,” Thompson said. “Because you could’ve done that already. But you just stood there and let him ‘introduce’ us like you’ve never seen me before, like I’ve not fucked you before.”

Aaron winced at the words.

“You lied to him,” Thompson added.

“He’ll understand,” Aaron replied, but his head was already imagining Robert’s hurt face when he found out the truth.

Thompson frowned and looked at him like he was stupid. “I’m not sure he’ll like the truth very much. Sugden’s a heartless son of a bitch and he doesn’t like to be messed about,” he continued. “Don’t pin all your hopes on him sticking by you and saving you from the streets. He only cares about money and he won’t be impressed when he finds out what you’ve been up to.”

Aaron had had enough. He wasn’t going to stand there and listen to this creep hurl abuse at him, say things about Robert, and comment on their relationship. “You know nothing about him, or us,” he snapped.

Thompson laughed again. It seemed like he was genuinely enjoying mocking Aaron and taunting him.

“Oh, you really are an ‘us’, are you? Fascinating. Wonder if there’d still be an ‘us’ if I went in there and told everyone who you really were.”

Aaron actually rolled his eyes at that. Maybe Thomson wasn’t holding all the cards in this situation after all.

“You’re not going to do that though, are you? Because then everyone would wonder how you knew about my past. And if you’ve told everyone about me, I wouldn’t think twice about telling them exactly how you know.”

Thompson smirked at him. “You’re a feisty one, aren’t you? That’s probably why I came back for more. But you see, sleeping with a whore is one thing: shacking up with one is completely different.”

Aaron’s face fell at the words.

“I’m sure a few of the more stuffy folk in there would be outraged by the scandal, but most of them have probably fucked someone they shouldn’t have. They’d have forgotten about it within a week. But how desperate must a person be to actually settle for someone else’s - quite a few someone else’s, let’s face it - sloppy seconds? Sugden’s reputation would be ruined if everyone found out. He’d be a laughing stock. And I’m pretty sure most of the people in that room wouldn’t want to do business with him if they knew he was such a sad-case.”

It felt like a physical blow to Aaron to hear their relationship reduced to such a cruel description. He almost felt his heart break; his stomach rolled and he felt bile rise in his throat.

Maybe the disgusting man before him was right. Maybe Robert was lowering himself to be with Aaron. Maybe Aaron was dragging him down. Maybe they were doomed from the start.

But something deep inside him rebelled against those treacherous thoughts. He loved Robert; Robert loved him. They were meant to be together. They wouldn’t have found their way back to one another after everything they’d been through, if they didn’t belong together.

He forced himself to stand up straight and stand still. He wanted to turn and run away, but he wouldn’t. He refused to let this man break him.

“You’re full of bullshit,” he ground out.

“Maybe,” Thompson said easily. “But do you want to risk it?”

“What do you want from me?” Aaron asked, unable to keep the desperation from his voice.

“I’ve told you: just a little catch-up,” Thompson replied.

Aaron shook his head. This wasn’t happening.

“Aaron?” Robert’s voice called across from the entranceway. “Are you alright?” He walked over and then realised that his potential client was standing there. “Oh, Richard. Sorry, didn’t see you there.” He turned to Aaron. “I’ve been looking for you. What are you doing out here? Are you okay?”

Aaron just looked at him and blinked a few times. He felt completely lost for words, like he didn’t know how to answer that  question without bursting into tears.

“I...I needed some fresh air. I don’t...I don’t feel well.”

“I came out for a smoke and found him,” Thompson said and when Aaron glanced at him, he was casually holding a cigarette between his fingers like he didn’t have a care in the world. “Looks a bit under the weather to me.”

Robert stepped closer to Aaron and looked at him carefully. “You do look a bit pale. Do you want to go home?” He reached up and gently cupped the side of Aaron’s face and it took Aaron everything in his power not to shrink away from the affectionate gesture.

“Yes,” he whispered. Even that one tiny word felt like a massive effort and he knew his voice sounded shaky.

The genuine concern on Robert’s face made Aaron feel so guilty, like he was a truly terrible person. Robert wrapped an arm around his waist and, again, Aaron almost flinched at the contact. It wasn’t Robert’s fault, but Aaron could hardly bear the touch and the sudden self-doubt that he didn’t deserve any comfort felt like it was dragging him down.

“Let’s get you home,” Robert said softly.

“I hope you’re soon feeling more like it, Aaron,” Thompson called from behind them and Aaron squeezed his eyes closed at the man’s voice and the way his words seemed to carry a completely different meaning.

He felt Robert twist and look over his shoulder. The only relief was that Robert had seemingly forgotten all about Thompson because he’d been so worried about his boyfriend.

“Thanks, Richard. I’ll give you a call this week,” Robert replied.

“I’ll look forward to it.”

Aaron felt his breathing stutter a little as he dragged in a breath and Robert immediately focused his attention back on him.

“Come on,” Robert said gently. He guided Aaron away and back to the car.

Aaron didn’t remember any of the journey home: his mind was a mess of confusion and fear and self-loathing.

He could feel Robert’s concerned eyes on him as he glanced over at him in the car, as they made their way back up to the apartment, and when they walked back inside. He knew Robert was worried, but he couldn’t bring himself to pretend that he was alright: he didn’t have the strength.

The front door closed behind them and Aaron immediately wandered towards their bedroom. He didn’t say a word: he hadn’t said anything since they’d left the event. At least not anything more than one word answers to Robert’s gentle, concerned questions.

“Do you want me to get you anything?” Robert asked from somewhere behind him.

Aaron shook his head. “No...thank you. I’m...I’m just going to get a shower and go to bed.”

Sliding his suit jacket down his arms, he threw it onto the bed. Being so lost in his own head meant he didn’t realise that Robert had wandered into the room behind him and was suddenly right beside him. A hand landing on his shoulder made him flinch and he shrugged away from the touch immediately. He spun around and blinked rapidly at Robert who looked shocked and a little hurt by his reaction.

“Sorry - didn’t mean to make you jump,” Robert said quietly.

And Aaron wanted to cry suddenly. Because Robert was only trying to comfort him; Robert was so worried about him. And instead of falling into his arms and soaking up the love and protection that he offered, Aaron was shrinking away from his touch and hiding the truth.

‘I don’t deserve his love,’ he thought to himself miserably. ‘I’m not good enough for him.’

He felt dirty and wrong and like everything he’d worked so hard for had been tainted all because of his horrible, filthy past. How could he let Robert touch him when he didn’t know how awful he really was?

Aaron could feel his eyes burning: he knew he was on the verge of tears.

“Just, um, I just don’t want you to catch it...you know, whatever’s making me feel ill,” he lied, and then felt even worse because the deception seemed to fall from his lips so easily.

Robert gave him a tiny smile as he rubbed Aaron’s back. Again it took Aaron all his strength to hold himself together: he felt like he was about to fall apart at any moment.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured as he looked up at Robert, tears welling in his eyes.

Robert shook his head and then, before Aaron could move, he pulled him into a hug. “You don’t need to apologise,” he said kindly. “You can’t help being poorly.”

Aaron allowed himself to be held for a few moments, drawing comfort from Robert’s strength before he cursed himself and silently berated himself for thinking he deserved any sort of affection or care from Robert. There was no doubt in his mind that Robert would not be as understanding if he knew what Aaron was really apologising for.

He pulled away from Robert’s embrace, his eyes cast down to the carpet.

“I’m going to go for a shower,” he said quietly.

“Okay,” Robert replied. “Give me a shout if you need anything.”

Aaron merely nodded and turned towards the en-suite. Once he was inside, he closed the door behind him, stripped out of his clothes and left them in a pile on the floor, and stepped into the shower cubicle. He turned on the water and moved beneath the spray. And then he cried.

He didn’t understand why this was happening. He didn’t know what he’d done wrong to make Thompson want to cause him so much trouble: their encounters hadn’t ended badly; Aaron hadn’t wronged him in any way. So he couldn’t comprehend why the man seemed so intent on tormenting him and threatening him.

He was scared. Scared of what would happen and scared of Thompson carrying out his threats. But mostly he was terrified that he was going to lose Robert.

He didn’t know what to do. Every option he considered seemed to lead to the same conclusion - Robert wouldn’t be able to handle the truth. His feelings towards Aaron would change if he was faced with the horrible, dirty truth. He’d probably try to deal with it, try to pretend it didn’t matter, but it would matter and it would change them. Of course he knew about Aaron’s previous profession - it was how they’d met after all - but knowing about it and being confronted with it in the form of one of Aaron’s former Johns, who was supposed to be Robert’s next big client, were two very different things. He didn’t need that stress and he didn’t need the humiliation of knowing his boyfriend had been paid for sex by one of his business associates.

Sinking down into the bottom of the  shower, Aaron sat with his head buried in his arms as the water beat down on him. He wanted it to wash away his shame and disgust and the feeling of Thompson’s eyes and words on his skin.

For the first time in a long time, he felt ashamed of himself. For the first time in months, he felt alone.

Chapter Text

Aaron woke up alone.

It wasn’t entirely unheard of but, these days, more often than not, Robert would be there in their bed, either still sleeping soundly or blinking awake slowly or smiling softly at Aaron as he himself woke up.

Occasionally, Robert would be up and out of bed - sometimes because he had an early meeting, sometimes because Aaron had a rare day off (and therefore was having a lie-in), or sometimes because he was up and making them breakfast or bringing Aaron a cup of tea in bed.

As he slowly opened his eyes, which seemed like a huge effort, and stared up at the ceiling, he wondered if it was a bad sign. Maybe it was a sign of things to come that the morning after he’d had his unnerving encounter with his past, he was waking up alone with no idea where Robert was.

The duvet was pulled up to his chin and he felt almost cocooned inside it, like it was protecting him from the reality he didn’t want to face.

He’d had a terrible night. After his shower, he climbed into bed and tried to stop his mind racing. He just wanted to sleep: he wanted to forget what had happened; pretend it was all a bad dream when he woke up in the morning. He’d been absolutely exhausted, but sleep wouldn’t come to him. He’d lain awake turning over the events of the evening in his mind, wondering how he’d got himself into such a mess and why Thompson felt the need to treat him like he was.

He’d pictured Robert’s face, looking at him in concern, and hated himself for lying to him.

As he’d lain there, he’d realised he hadn’t even said goodnight to Robert and that had just piled more guilt on top of him. The simplest of things, but it seemed foreboding somehow.

But then when the bedroom door had been quietly opened, and Robert had crept into the room, Aaron had squeezed his eyes closed, made sure his breathing was steady and slow, and pretended to be asleep. And that was just something else for him to feel bad about, yet more dishonesty. But he hadn’t been able to face Robert and his worry and the thought of him pulling Aaron into another caring embrace had been too much. Aaron knew he’d have broken down and he knew he couldn’t allow that to happen. Crying inconsolably wasn’t going to solve this problem.

At some point, he must have fallen asleep, but his sleep had been disturbed and he’d woken up several times. He’d had dreams and seen flashes of angry faces and hurt expressions and slamming doors. He’d jolted awake more than once and he’d glanced over at Robert every time to see if he was still there. He’d woken up tangled in bedding and feeling trapped and gasping for breath. As he blinked up at the ceiling, he supposed he should have been grateful for managing to actually sleep at all and for the fact that he’d managed to grab a few hours. That didn’t stop his eyes feeling sore and gritty.

The ceiling didn’t offer any answers as he stared up at it. He still didn’t know what to do.

He was completely bewildered about why Thompson would want to cause him trouble. It wasn’t like the man could’ve set out that evening with a plan to threaten Aaron and try to get him into bed. He hadn’t seen Aaron in years and Aaron certainly had no idea that there was any link between any of his former clients and Robert. Of course, he wasn’t naive: he’d always known that there might be a chance that he’d encounter someone he’d ‘worked’ for before at some point. He just hadn’t expected it to be one of Robert’s acquaintances. The way that Thompson seemed so keen to threaten him and didn’t seem to care that he was threatening Aaron’s happiness was scary. If he wasn’t worried about being so brazen in his suggestions, Aaron was frightened about how far he’d go.

And he just didn’t understand. What did Thompson have to gain from any of it? He couldn’t have been that desperate to get laid that he’d go to these lengths. If he was, it wasn’t like he couldn’t go out and find another companion on a street corner somewhere: he’d obviously done it before. Apart from the fact that he was clearly a sleaze, he was obviously getting some perverse thrill out of treating Aaron like he was. Maybe he enjoyed the feeling of power. Aaron didn’t know. He didn’t want to know how someone like Thompson’s mind worked. He was clearly twisted and sick and a heartless monster who didn’t care who he hurt with his scheming and games.

But acknowledging that didn’t help Aaron solve his problem. He blew out a long breath and squeezed his eyes closed.

What was he going to do? Maybe he should just tell Robert what had happened. But the more he thought about it, the more awful that idea seemed. What would Robert think of him? What if he was disgusted by Aaron and what he’d done? What if he pretended it didn’t matter but deep down he couldn’t stand it and it drove them apart?

And what about Robert’s business? He couldn’t give up another deal because of Aaron. He’d already backed out of his contract with the Whites for the shelter. He couldn’t throw away another opportunity because of Aaron’s pathetic history. Surely it would damage his reputation, maybe beyond repair this time. Aaron couldn’t ask him to sacrifice anything else. He wasn’t worth it.

Just as he felt tears burning in his eyes, the bedroom door opened slowly and Robert peered around it. He smiled softly when he saw that Aaron was awake.

“Morning,” he said quietly. He wandered into the room with a cup of tea in his hands and walked around to Aaron’s side of the bed. He placed the mug on Aaron’s bedside table and then sat down on the edge of the bed next to Aaron. “How are you feeling?” he asked, as he laid his hand on Aaron’s arm through the duvet.

Aaron tried for a smile but he knew it was a weak attempt. He cleared his throat. “I’m alright,” he replied quietly.

“You don’t have to pretend with me, you know,” Robert told him.

Something cold slid down Aaron’s spine at the words. His heart leapt into his throat. Did Robert know the truth? Had he found out somehow? What if Thompson had called him and told him?

“I...” he started but Robert just shook his head.

“It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to pretend to be feeling better just to stop me worrying. I can see you’re not right. You look really pale still.” He reached out and ran his hand through Aaron’s hair gently. Aaron closed his eyes, half yearning for the caring touch and half feeling guilty for accepting it.

“And you look shattered,” Robert continued. “I’m not surprised - you were tossing and turning all night.”

Aaron looked at him. “Sorry,” he murmured. Knowing his disturbed sleep had kept Robert awake too just made him feel even worse.

“Hey, I told you last night, you don’t need to apologise. I’m just worried about you. I hate seeing you like this.”

“I’ll be alright,” Aaron replied quietly.

Robert just hummed in response. “Look, I’ve got to get to work, so are you sure you’re going to be okay? Do you want me to get you anything before I go?” He stood up and looked down at Aaron.

Aaron shook his head. “No, thank you. I’d better get up anyway. Got to get ready for work.” He started pushing himself up out of bed and swung his legs over the side. Regardless of what else was going on, he had a shift and maybe going to work and carrying on as normal would help in some way: maybe the distraction would do him good.

“What are you on about?” Robert asked. He was frowning and looked genuinely confused. “You’re not going to work today.”

“What? I have a shift starting at nine,” Aaron told him.

“Well, no you don’t actually. I called your boss this morning and told him you wouldn’t be in.”

Aaron froze where he was and blinked at Robert a few times. Something hot flashed through him and he shook his head. How dare Robert make that decision? How dare he cancel his shift without even asking him if that was what he wanted? What was he playing at? It wasn’t up to him. He didn’t get to control Aaron like that.

“Why the hell did you do that?” he asked angrily.

Robert looked completely taken aback. He opened his mouth to speak but Aaron ploughed on.

“It wasn’t up to you to decide. I can’t believe you.”

“I’m sorry I’ve upset you,” Robert replied immediately. He looked like he was completely bewildered by Aaron’s reaction. “But you were so ill last night. I just didn’t think you’d be up to it today.”

“Oh, well that’s alright then. You’ve made my decision for me.” Aaron could feel his heart thudding in his chest as he jabbed his finger between himself and Robert. For a moment, he felt trapped, like he needed to make a run for it so he could escape everything closing in around him. “If I wasn’t well, I’d have called him myself. It wasn’t up to you. You don’t get to decide what I do. You don’t get to control me.”

Robert held out his hands almost like he was surrendering and, when Aaron looked at him properly, it seemed like he was upset by the conversation.

“I wasn’t trying to control you, Aaron,” he said quietly. “I was worried - that’s all. I just...I thought I was doing the right thing. I’m sorry I’ve upset you.”

Aaron felt himself deflate suddenly. He didn’t even know when he’d stood up but he’d been pacing the room and was standing staring at Robert across the space between them. The fight drained from him as he realised how he’d reacted so irrationally, how he’d taken out his frustrations and fears on Robert, the last person who deserved it. All of a sudden, there were tears in his eyes and he staggered back to the bed and sunk down onto the edge of it, putting his head in his hands.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered.

He felt Robert’s presence and then a gentle hand on his knee. When he found the courage to peer through his fingers, Robert was kneeling down in front of him, looking at him with concern all over his face. Aaron thought he deserved anger: Robert should have been furious with him for his behaviour surely. But instead, he just looked worried and a little sad and still shocked by Aaron’s outburst.

“I’m sorry,” Aaron repeated. “I shouldn’t have...”

“Hey,” Robert stopped him. “It’s alright.” He stroked his hand over Aaron’s knee gently. “I didn’t mean to overstep. I should’ve checked first.”

Miserably, Aaron shook his head. “You were just trying to help. It was so thoughtful of you to look after me like that.”

“I’ll always look after you,” Robert told him earnestly.

“I shouldn’t have had a go at you,” Aaron continued. He already felt bad enough about what had happened the night before and the way he’d kept the truth from Robert, and now he’d bitten Robert’s head off just for caring about him. He felt truly wretched, like he was a terrible person.

“It’s alright,” Robert repeated. “You’re not feeling well - we all get grumpy when we’re under the weather: it makes everything seem worse.”

Aaron opened his mouth to protest: to apologise again, or maybe to tell Robert that actually it was far worse than he realised. But Robert cut him off.

“No more apologising. It’s fine. If you feel up to going in to work, I’m sure your boss won’t mind if you ring him. Blame the confusion on me.” He smiled and shrugged his shoulders slightly.

Blowing out a long breath, Aaron shook his head slowly. For all of his extreme reaction to Robert’s interference, he really didn’t feel up to going into work. He just couldn’t face it. He needed time to get his head sorted and figure out what he was going to do.

“No...you’re right. I’m not feeling too good. I think a day at home would be for the best.”

Robert nodded in agreement and pushed himself up to stand in front of Aaron. He ran his hand over the side of Aaron’s head before he leant down and pressed a kiss against his forehead.

“Get some rest today,” he said quietly. “I’m only at the end of the phone if you need anything.”

Aaron nodded and gave Robert a weak smile.

After a moment of lingering, Robert turned to leave. “I’ll see you later. Love you,” he said as he turned back once more.

Aaron knew that, if he’d asked, Robert would have forgotten about work and stayed with him for the day, and he was so tempted to ask. It flashed through his mind: if Robert stayed, he could sit him down and tell him what had happened. But almost as soon as he pictured it, he shied away from the idea. He couldn’t tell Robert. He couldn’t stand the look of betrayal and disappointment he knew he’d see on his face if he learnt the truth.

“Bye,” he said quietly. “Love you too.”

When the door closed behind Robert, Aaron slumped back against the bed. He blinked up at the ceiling again: he still couldn’t see any answers written on it. But he knew he had some decisions to make.

***

Deciding what to do hadn’t been easy.

Aaron had spent the day in utter turmoil.

He’d gone around in circles all day, coming to a conclusion and then talking himself out of it within minutes.

Part of him wanted to just tell Robert what had happened with Thompson. Robert knew he had a past: he wouldn’t be bothered. In fact, he’d probably be furious on Aaron’s behalf and he’d stand by him.

But as soon as he’d settled on that plan, he’d imagined actually sitting down with Robert to explain and, in his head, seen Robert’s hurt face and how he’d pull away from Aaron and how he wasn’t sure if Robert would actually be able to get past the idea that someone he wanted to do business with had paid Aaron for sex before they’d ever met.

Rationally, he knew it wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t done anything wrong. How could he have ever predicted what the future held when he’d been picked up by Thompson? But it just felt so wrong now. It felt like he’d betrayed Robert somehow. And maybe that was because of the lies he’d told since encountering Thompson again. He hadn’t known for sure - all he’d known was that he couldn’t tell Robert.

Once he’d decided that he was going to keep it secret, he just had to decide how to deal with Thompson.

The man was clearly a creep. But maybe his threats were hollow. What could he actually do about it if Aaron refused his suggestion? Because there was absolutely no question that his answer was ‘no’.

He would rather die than be intimidated into going anywhere near that man again. And not just because the thought made his skin crawl, but because he’d never cheat on Robert.

Even if he tried to ruin Robert’s reputation, surely it was just a case of his word against Aaron’s. And they could just tell everyone Thompson was deluded and stick to their own story of how they met.

And it wasn’t like there was any reason to doubt that.

Of course, Aaron didn’t want him to do that because then Robert would find out, but, maybe if Aaron didn’t give Thompson any ammunition, the other man would just get bored and give up on his sick games.

It had taken him all day, but eventually he’d decided on his plan. And that was to do nothing.

Realistically, his path never needed to cross Thompson’s again. Robert might be dealing with him, but surely if Aaron wasn’t anywhere near him, it would be a case of out of sight, out of mind. Thompson would probably just forget all about him. He probably already had. Maybe the other man had just been taking a chance and hoping that Aaron would agree to do what he wanted if he applied enough pressure. But when Aaron had refused, he’d probably given up the idea just as quickly as he’d had it.

A quiet voice in Aaron’s head was telling him that things couldn’t be that simple - that things didn’t work out like that for him - but he silenced it. He had to believe it would be alright. He had to believe that it was over before anything had really happened. He had to because, if he didn’t, everything would fall apart.

Some people might call it denial, but Aaron preferred self-preservation. He had no choice but to carry on as normal, forget the whole mess with Thompson and hold onto the belief that it was truly over, or would be if he stayed off Thompson’s radar for good.

He knew there was nothing he could do about Thompson being associated with Robert. As much as he hated the idea of Robert dealing with Thompson, he had no choice but to accept it. There was no way he could talk Robert out of the deal without giving away everything that had happened between them in the past and more recently.

He’d decided. He wasn’t going to talk to Robert about any of it. He was going to keep it all a secret, deal with it in his own way. He was going to forget all about it.

***

Forgetting about it seemed to be working for the most part. Or at least that was what he was telling himself.

Aaron had done a good job of ‘recovering’ from his mystery illness and Robert had just been relieved to see him back to his old self.

It had been a few weeks since Aaron’s run-in with Thompson and Aaron had tried to push the whole thing far from his mind. He’d tried. He hadn’t always been successful.

He was so busy with work and the shelter and then his college course that he rarely had time to dwell on what had happened but, no matter how much he tried to pretend it was fine, and it was forgotten about, it had rattled him. It had shaken his belief that he’d moved on with his life and left a niggling doubt in his mind. When he was busy, he was fine: he didn’t have time to think about it. But when he stopped for the day, or when he lay in bed awake, or when he stood motionless under the spray of the shower for too long, the thoughts came creeping back. Thompson’s words came creeping back. He doubted himself, he questioned everything he’d done, and he wondered how Robert would ever forgive him if he found out the truth.

As much as he’d tried to be ‘normal’, he couldn’t hide the fact that sometimes he drifted off into his own head. Robert had broken him out of a trance more than once over the last few weeks: at first, he’d smiled fondly at Aaron’s daydreaming; then he’d started looking at him with concern as he’d had to break through Aaron’s barriers yet again to bring him back to the present.

Aaron had waved him off when he’d asked if he was alright. He kept telling Robert he was fine, but Robert had been watching him more closely and seemed to be trying to figure something out when he glanced at him.

Aaron knew he’d been more quiet than usual and he knew he’d been a little distant. He’d never found excuses to avoid Robert before but, over the weeks since Thompson had shown up, Aaron had become even busier than before and maybe was ‘tired’ more often and always seemed to have a reason why he couldn’t do anything too ‘coupley’ when Robert suggested it.

He’d even shied away from sex for nearly a week, which was most definitely unheard of for them. He’d feigned tiredness and claimed the side-effects from being unwell were still lingering but, in reality, he was scared. Not scared of Robert: he would never feel afraid of him or think he’d hurt him like that. But scared that he wasn’t good enough; that Robert would touch him and somehow see all of his secrets; that he was somehow tainted by what had happened and unworthy of Robert.

And Robert had been so wonderful about it all. He’d snuggled up to Aaron one night, his erection pressing against Aaron’s hip, and when Aaron had told him he wasn’t feeling up to it, Robert had smiled softly at him and pressed a chaste kiss to his temple before he’d relaxed against his pillow and nodded off. He’d never tried to pressure Aaron and seemed to have decided he’d wait until Aaron came to him.  Eventually, Aaron had made the first move and initiated something between them, and it had been as amazing as always between them. Robert had even jokingly remarked on how the ‘week off’ had made it seem like a real treat, like it had heightened the anticipation so it had been more than worth the wait.

And it all just made Aaron feel worse somehow. Robert had been nothing but understanding and seemed genuinely concerned about him. And Aaron just didn’t think he deserved it. He almost wanted Robert to snap and have a go at him, be angry with him for being such a let-down, and then he’d be able to shout back at him, maybe vent some of his frustration, maybe walk out of the door in a rage and drive off for a while to get some space.

But that wasn’t fair. Because none of it was Robert’s fault so it wasn’t right to take it out on him.

But maybe he already was hurting Robert. The last few weeks had been strained between them. Robert had no idea what was wrong. He’d asked Aaron if he was okay, if there was something on his mind, and Aaron had always told him he was fine. When he’d asked again, he’d bluntly told Robert to stop fussing and then felt guilty at the expression on Robert’s face. And Robert had grown quieter over the last few weeks, like he didn’t know what to say to Aaron without asking if he was alright. He obviously wasn’t blind: he knew Aaron and he knew there was something going on. He just didn’t know what and had no way of working it out.

So maybe trying to forget all about his problems wasn’t working out quite as well as Aaron had hoped it would.

***

Aaron had a plan. He was feeling bad about how everything he’d been worrying about had driven a bit of a wedge between himself and Robert, and so he’d decided to do something nice for him to try to get things back to normal.

In the weeks since the business event, there had been no mention of Thompson and Aaron was beginning to hope that maybe he’d been right all along - maybe he really had just been trying his luck that night and he’d forgotten all about Aaron since.

Aaron was going to make an effort to put it all behind him. He just wanted everything to be back to the way it was before. He loved Robert - more than anything. And he wanted to make sure the other man knew that.

He drove across the city to the building which held Robert’s offices. It was a modern multi-storey, all sparkling glass and gleaming metal, and it never failed to wow Aaron when he visited. The first time he’d been was with Robert months ago and he’d almost felt afraid to touch anything for fear of leaving finger marks on the polished surfaces or inadvertently setting off some sort of alarm. That had changed when Robert, clearly sensing his anxiety, had swept a load of paperwork onto the floor off one of the conference tables in a dramatic, completely over-the-top scene straight from a movie. They’d both burst out laughing at his actions but then decided to make the most of it and actually shagged on the table. It was safe to say that while Aaron was still awed by the fantastic building, he couldn’t bring himself to worry about touching anything when his bare arse had been pressed against the table that Robert held his meetings around.

The memory made him smile as he ascended in the lift to the floors where Robert’s offices were located. He remembered how, giddy and flushed after their escapade, they’d got back into the lift to head back down and Robert had pressed him up against the wall, kissing him deeply until a smooth voice announced that they were at the ground floor and Robert had released him.

He didn’t have many chances to head down to visit Robert at work, and Robert was extremely busy anyway, but he felt confident and at ease when he did and that was all thanks to Robert. When he thought about his history, he never would have dreamed that he’d be someone who could wander into a building like that so casually, but he could and he could do it with a smile on his face because of Robert. He’d made him feel like he was good enough. He’d made him feel like he could belong anywhere he wanted to. He’d made him feel like he was worth something.

As the lift pinged, the smooth voice announced he’d arrived at his destination, and the doors swooshed open. He was still smiling softly to himself. He was going to surprise Robert and take him out for some lunch. He deserved something nice like that. He’d casually enquired about  Robert’s schedule that morning and realised he had a gap at one, so he was just a few minutes early.

He wandered over to the reception desk.

“Hello, Aaron,” Priya greeted him brightly.

“Hi. He’s not expecting me, but I thought I’d surprise Robert and take him out for some lunch,” Aaron told her.

Priya wrinkled her nose in delight. “Oh, aren’t you sweet? He’s just finishing up with a client, but I can let him know you’re here. Do you want to take a seat?”

Aaron made his way to the waiting area, listening as Priya tapped away on her keyboard and continued answering calls.

A door to one of the offices swung open and Robert stepped out, scanning the waiting room. His face lit-up when he saw Aaron and he walked over to him immediately.

Aaron’s heart thudded in his chest. He loved him so much. Just seeing him in that moment made him so indescribably happy.

Aaron stood up and wrapped his arms around Robert when he approached him and pecked a kiss onto his cheek. He held on to Robert and breathed him in for a moment.

“What are you doing here?” Robert asked against his neck. He seemed to be quite content to just hold onto Aaron too. “Not that I’m complaining, obviously.”

He pulled back and smiled at Aaron fondly.

“Thought you might like to go out for some lunch. My treat,” Aaron replied.

Robert beamed at him. “Of course, I would.” He glanced over his shoulder as the door to the office opened again and Leyla stuck her head out. “I’ve just got to finish up in there and then I’m all yours.” He pressed a quick kiss to Aaron’s lips. “Five minutes, okay?”

Aaron nodded. He couldn’t stop grinning. Robert seemed so genuinely pleased to see him. They needed this. They needed some time together.

Robert turned and quickly made his way back to the office and Aaron sat back down to wait.

A few minutes past as he played about with his phone and when a door opened, Aaron looked up expectantly. His face fell as he saw Richard Thompson walk out of one of the other offices, bidding farewell to whoever he’d been dealing with inside. He looked cocky and smarmy and that was before he’d even laid eyes on Aaron. When he realised that Aaron was sitting in the waiting area, his eyes narrowed and the smile on his face turned almost predatory.

Aaron’s heart had started pounding in his chest as soon as he’d seen the other man: his fight or flight instincts were roaring inside him, but what options did he actually have? He couldn’t exactly stand up and run out of the building, and punching the man was out of the question, no matter how much he might like to.

Thompson sauntered over to him as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He stood over Aaron, smiling down at him like he obviously knew he held all the power.

“Aaron,” he greeted him smoothly. “We must stop meeting like this.”

Aaron just scowled up at him. He didn’t want to give himself away, didn’t want him to know how uncomfortable he felt.

Thompson continued to smirk at him. “I do hope you’re feeling more like your old self now,” he said, and even such seemingly innocent words seemed to carry another meaning. It was obvious to Aaron that he was implying that Aaron was back to his old ways of making his money.

Clenching his jaw, Aaron glanced over at Priya, wishing despite how much he didn’t want everyone to know the truth, that she would notice that something wasn’t right about this conversation. Unfortunately, she was so busy with taking calls and tapping away on her tablet that she didn’t even look up at the two of them. Anything she overheard would sound merely like friendly conversation.

“What are you doing here?” Aaron ground out.

“Moving forward with the contract that Robert is so desperate to secure. I have to admit I was a little disappointed not to see him today, but there’ll be plenty of time for us to get better acquainted once we’ve signed on the dotted line.”

Aaron’s stomach rolled at the thought of it. He pushed himself up suddenly just as Leyla appeared through the door that Robert had come from.

“Leyla,” he called, “Please can you tell Robert I’ve gone downstairs to wait for him outside.”

She smiled and nodded, opening her mouth to reply, but before she could say anything, Aaron had turned and stepped around Thompson to make his way to the lift. He didn’t look round and thankfully the doors slid open quickly and he walked inside. It was only as the doors were closing that he allowed himself a moment to look up.

Thompson was engaged in conversation with Leyla, but he raised his eyebrows at Aaron as their eyes met.

As soon as the doors opened on the ground floor, Aaron pushed through the gap and all but ran through the lobby and out of the front doors. Once outside, he leant his hands against one of the low walls where the workers from the building came to sit for a cigarette or a sandwich at lunchtime and hung his head. He drew in a few deep breaths and tried to calm himself down. He needed to get himself under control before Robert found him.

“Do you know, I was convinced I’d get an irate phone call from Sugden telling me to back off.” The voice sent a shudder through Aaron and he straightened immediately and spun round to face Thompson who was closing the distance between them casually.

Aaron just blew out another breath. He could feel his eyes burning as tears started to build. What was wrong with this man? Why couldn’t he leave him alone?

“I was sure the deal would be off when he found out about us,” he continued.

“There is no us,” Aaron replied quietly.

Thompson continued speaking like Aaron hadn’t even said anything. “You obviously didn’t tell him. What a good boy you are,” he said and he grinned at Aaron. “Or maybe you’re a bad boy after all.” He winked at Aaron like they were sharing a secret and Aaron thought he might be sick.

The realisation that he should have just told Robert as soon as he’d encountered Thompson, or at least when they’d got home, hit him like a punch to the stomach. If he had, Robert might have been a little upset or a bit freaked out, but he’d have been on Aaron’s side: of course he would. Aaron knew that now as he actually thought about it. And if he had told him, this would be over because there would be no way that Robert would allow this man anywhere near Aaron and he certainly wouldn’t be going into business with him.

He blinked rapidly to force back the tears that wanted to fall.

“What’s to stop me telling him now?” he asked, hoping he sounded confident, but knowing it was a poor attempt.

Thompson chuckled. “You’ve been lying to him for weeks. How do you think that will look? You’ve lost your chance. Tell him now and I could just tell him we’ve been having an affair behind his back. What reason would I have to lie to him? Whereas you...your lies have been going on for weeks. They haven’t exactly helped your case, have they? What would he think? He wouldn’t know what to believe. How would he be able to trust you?”

Aaron felt each word chip away at him, like they were destroying him and his relationship with Robert with each cruel blow.

“I wonder what will hurt him more - knowing you’ve been lying to him or losing his business.”

“What?” Aaron asked in shock.

“Well, you haven’t been very receptive to my offer, so I’m assuming you want to see him ruined. I can make it so he never gets a deal in this city again.”

Thompson paused and stepped a little closer to Aaron. He narrowed his eyes at him.

“Is that what you want? Do you want to see him ruined? His business destroyed because of you?”

Aaron let out a tiny sob. He shook his head minutely.

“Why are you doing this?” he whispered desperately.

Thompson smirked again. “Because I can,” he replied easily. “Because why should Sugden be the only one having a good time? And because no-one says no to me, Aaron. I’m a man who likes to get his own way.”

“Please,” Aaron begged. “Please, just leave us alone.”

Thompson reached out suddenly and gripped Aaron’s upper arm.

”You could make all of this go away, if you just...agree to spending some time with me.”

Aaron stared at him with wide eyes. He’d never felt so powerless in his life. No, that was wrong...he’d felt like this before when he’d been a child at the mercy of his evil father. He knew he was shaking but the fear had gripped him entirely. He’d been abused by his father; he’d lived on the streets; he’d been beaten up and treated like shit; he’d struggled against his demons for a long time. And somehow he’d found a strength inside himself that had kept him going: he’d fought back. When he’d found Robert, he’d been stronger than ever. And now he was going to lose it all. He didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. In that moment, he was a scared little boy all over again.

He felt something brush against his side and when he looked down he realised that Thompson had pushed something into the pocket of his jacket.

“My card for when you’re ready to get in touch.”

With that, he released Aaron and walked away like he hadn’t just destroyed Aaron’s whole world.

Aaron’s shaking legs gave out and he slumped onto the wall behind him. He thought he was about to be sick at any moment and his heart was still racing. He could feel the cold sweat all over him. A few tears dribbled down his face and he scrubbed them away roughly.

He had no time to think because when he looked up, Robert was walking through the revolving glass doors of the building, glancing side to side as he tried to find Aaron.

Aaron drew in a deep breath and pushed himself to his feet. He might not feel strong but he had to pull himself together. He could do this. If these were to be his last days with Robert, he was going to make them count.

“Rob!” he called, waving and forcing a smile onto his face.

Robert immediately caught sight of him and quickened his pace to close the distance between them. He looked so happy to see Aaron and it broke Aaron’s heart to know that it wasn’t going to last.