Everything had gone wrong over the last few weeks. Aaron had finally been let home and yet the atmosphere was even worse than the prison walls he called home everyday. In the space of only a few weeks, Chas had done the unthinkable, stabbing her best friend and colleague in the middle of the night. Aaron almost winced as he remembered the blood pouring out of Diane's frail body, he could still remember the memories that came flashing back in his mind as he held onto her - Robert. The sick sinking feeling that wouldn't leave him as he saw the blood stain his hands. It was too much to think about. He couldn't allow himself to think about it anymore when his mum needed him so badly.
Since the dreadful night, things had only gotten worse for Aaron. Cain and him had managed to convince Chas that owning up to the crime would do more harm then good yet this didn't stop her panicking whenever the snotty policewomen came round to ask questions.
As far as the village knew, Chas' stalker was still very much on the loose and dangerous, coming in the dark of the night to harm her but stabbing Diane instead. It all sounded so dramatic and tragic and Aaron hated every single bit of it. Aaron had to bit his lip and stop his eyes from rolling every time someone from the village would give him or Chas and sympathetic look. The guilt was eating him up inside and he was about to crack.
The Sugden's had been making visits to the hospital daily. Victoria, Andy and of course Robert. Aaron managed to be kept updated on Diane's condition via Adam who was more than willing to share news each day. Knowing that Diane was on the mend had managed to ease at least some guilt for Aaron, yet seeing the look of fear in Victoria's eyes every time she set off to hospital still ripped at his heart.
Even seeing Robert look so lost and troubled had managed to unsettle him slightly - something about the sadness in his eyes had stopped Aaron from chucking nasty looks his way. To say that the bitter anger Aaron felt for his ex lover had subsided may have been a tad too far, yet after every small look between them that lingered slightly too long, Aaron felt his heart soften for the man and he hated it.
One night outside the quiet pub, Aaron was feeling low. The guilt was eating away at him and the beers slipping down his throat weren't having the desired effect. After the fifth pint, Aaron had a hazy view of the street block his vision slightly, making him completely unaware of Robert's presence only a few metres away from him.
"Robert?" Aaron asked him, sitting up straight and instantly putting his guard up, "Get lost will ya."
Robert smiled weakly, "I think you've had enough don't you."
"I need it." Aaron said hugging the half drunk pint in front of him, "It helps."
"Not as much as you think it does. Trust me you'll regret it in the morning" Robert said coaxing the beer out of Aaron's hand.
"Oi give it back!"
"No alright, I get that you're going through a bad time but so am I. Diane ... she nearly died."
The mention of Diane had almost instantly made Aaron felt sick with fear and guilt. Robert looked so broken as he tried to fight back his emotions and lift Aaron up from his seat.
"Don't. Don't mention Diane ... I can't take it I —" Aaron said softly avoiding Robert's gaze.
Robert paused for a moment, confused by Aaron's attitude, "Eh? It's alright."
"No it isn't ... how can it be after ... after what she did —"
Aaron clumsily began to haul himself up, it was more difficult than he thought and soon turned to Robert for help. Yet the older man stood perplexed by Aaron's words, "After what she did ... who do you mean? Who's she?"
Aaron suddenly gulped hard as he realised that he had said to much, knowing that he had mentioned his mum as he blurting out who everything wouldn't be okay. 'After what she did' - after what Chas did, how could everything be alright.
"Nothing, I ... I don't know." Aaron mumbled before turning round and crashing through the pub door. It was too close, how could he have been so stupid? Nearly spilling the big secret that loomed over him and his entire family who were trying their best to keep Chas safe from a life time in prison.
After the drunk incident with Robert, the next few days seemed to go by quickly for Aaron. Chas was finally feeling better and Cain was pleased with how well she was doing, yet Aaron couldn't help but feel confused by her sudden positivity regarding the situation. Almost instantly she was able to smile when she needed to and be as hospitable to the police officers as possible every time they barged through the pub door asking more questions. Her calmness was almost unsettling.
"Oi listen to me alright, you better stop this whole act." Cain said angrily, yanking his nephew to one side as Chas sat in the living room of the pub.
"You what?" Aaron replied confused by the bluntness in his uncles voice.
"You. I see the way you act whenever someone tries to offer their sympathy. It's pathetic. You couldn't look any guiltier."
"Well I'm sorry but I can't just pretend that I don't feel bad about any of this. Cain, the whole village is feeling sorry for mum when she was the one who did it!" Aaron spat back before trying to walk out of the way.
Cain moved in closer, blocking the exit for Aaron to escape, "Do you want to say that any louder?" Cain whispered, "Listen, I get it. You're a decent lad of course this is gonna effect ya but ... she's your mum Aaron and ... she needs you."
Aaron gulped hard, of course Chas needed him, "I'm sorry alright, it's just ... seeing Vic all upset and Doug worrying about her. I can't —"
"Yes you can. You can and you will because your mum needs you to be strong like she's being. Got it?" Cain said firmly before moving out of the way and allowing Aaron to almost run out of the pub.
The fresh air caught Aaron's breath as he turned the corner and walked into the he cafe. Aaron sighed loudly as he saw Victoria, Adam and Robert sitting quietly in the corner of the shop. This wasn't going to be easy, but Aaron had to do it. He had to be strong and try and forget.
"Hey mate you alright." Adam yawned nodding at Aaron and gesturing for him to sit down next to them.
Aaron looked wide eyed as he gazed at Victoria who's eyes were puffy and red, she had been crying. Aaron felt a ripple of pain race through his body as he allowed himself to become overwhelmed with guilt once more. She looked so broken and innocent as she slouched next to Robert. Aaron tried his hardest not to stare but he couldn't help himself. There he sat, towering over his little sister as he held onto her tightly. Robert had almost a blank expression painted on his face as he fidgeted with his coat zip.
"Er no thanks I —" Robert raised his head as he realised Adam was talking to Aaron. "How's Diane doing?"
Victoria sat up slowly, "They want to run some tests and ... I —"
"She thinks it's gonna be bad news." Robert said looking up at Aaron and seeing the guilt build once more in his eyes.
Aaron didn't know what to say. What could he say really?
"Vic don't ... don't think like that. It's gonna be alright." Aaron said softly reaching over and stroking her hand.
Robert smiled weakly as he looked at Aaron, he admired this gentle side that only a few people saw. There was something so beautiful about the way he could almost ease any horrible thought Robert had. And now it was working with Victoria- almost instantly his little sister began to smile and sit up straight. As if Aaron's words had cured her of her negative ideas.
Robert couldn't help but smile stupidly at Aaron who wasn't staring back, he wished he could ease the pain he knew Aaron felt. Robert recalled the other nights weird conversation with Aaron, he remembered how loose and almost uncontrollable Aaron had appeared and all of a sudden he felt the need to address it.
He had seen him since, casually around in the village yet he never had the chance - not really. Robert knew they were no way near talking terms, but Aaron had actually had a conversation with him that night. A real conversation about his feelings, it was ridiculously odd and strange and the more Robert let himself remember the night the more he began to become curious about why exactly Aaron was in such a terrible state.
"How's Chas? Is she doing okay?" Victoria asked innocently.
Aaron gulped hard, the last thing he needed right now was any sort of sympathy felt for his mum from Victoria of all people.
"Er yeah she's ... she's doing okay I guess."
"Yeah well let's just hope they catch whoever it was who did this." Adam sighed running his hands through his hair.
Aaron shuffled slightly, "Course yeah."
Robert sipped his coffee before staring at Aaron wildly, "That might never happen. I mean whoever did it ... they won't come back."
"Don't say that!" Victoria shouted, lightly slapping Robert's knee.
Aaron felt his heart race, this was a good sign. Robert was accepting that whoever did it may never be punished and this is exactly want he needed to hear right now. Of Robert believed it, it wouldn't take too long to convince Victoria or even Andy.
"He's right." Aaron said quickly causing Robert to give him a confused look, "Whoever did it ... they wanted to hurt my mum and ... they got the wrong person. The police are crawling the place, why would they come back?"
Adam nodded slowly, "That's a good point."
Aaron nodded sharply thankful for his friends support.
"Yeah it is." Robert said calmly, "But ..." Aaron felt his heart race, "That doesn't mean I won't find them. They can't hide forever and I won't stop until they get what they deserve." Robert whispered menacingly.
Now Robert was determined to find out the truth, it wouldn't take long for him to find some sort of substantial evidence linking Chas to the crime and then it would be game over.
This is all he needed right now. Aaron quickly made his excuses and left the cafe, running out into the bitter cold and desparetlyy trying to control the anxiousness building inside him.
An hour passed and Aaron still hadn't calmed down just yet. The thought of Robert finding out exactly what happened to Diane that night filled his mind with dread. He knew Robert, he knew how sly and cunning he could be. And stubborn. Definitely stubborn, when he wanted to know something - he wouldn't stop until he find out. Aaron sighed loudly realising just how little Robert had left, in a few weeks time his estranged wife might be behind bars and his step mother would need all the help possible. Slowly, Robert was loosing grip on his life - it made sense that the controlling man would want to find out the truth. It was the only thing he had control over really.
Robert was well aware that he wasn't the comforting type (that was more Victoria's style) and so actually finding concrete evidence to send someone down for the crime was his way of putting things right and doing something that would help his family. He wouldn't stop until he knew for sure. Aaron felt sick as he imagined how quickly Robert would hire his 'people' who would be one step ahead of the police and start to line up potential suspects. Soon the whole village would know the truth, soon Chas would be behind bars.
Robert looked ahead and saw his ex slouching lazily on a bench outside the village. He still hadn't realised exactly what Aaron meant those nights before when he confessed his deep thoughts in a drunken haze. Now was the prefect chance.
"What's up with you?" Robert asked Aaron who was now staring at the ground.
Aaron raised his head and looked at the man who would soon become the reason behind his heartbreak (again), "Nothing." Aaron said bluntly, letting the anger he felt towards him spill out messily.
Robert stared taken aback by Aaron's harsh tone, "Well that didn't sound like nothing. Is it your mum?"
Aaron gulped hard, "Just stop talking to me will ya! Stop acting like we're best mates and leave me alone okay?"
Robert dropped his head in embarrassment. He was stupid to think that Diane nearly dying had managed to ease the tension between the two men.
Suddenly Robert felt ridiculously stupid as he realised that he may have misread the signs completely. Ever since that night he had sworn Aaron had looked at him differently, that his eyes were filled with compassion rather than hate — as if Aaron felt sorry for him. Yet as he stared at the anger building in his eyes, he realised he had been wrong.
As always pride quickly fell to the front of Robert's mind - like it usually did whenever Aaron managed to tug at his heartstrings slightly. He had to bite back.
"Well sorry for taking any interest in your petty little life. Why don't you go and tell your problems to Paddy, see if he'll come to your rescue this time." Robert could see the anger boiling inside his ex lover, he was pushing him too far and he couldn't stop, "Didn't end very well last time did it!" Robert spat angrily before heading in the opposite direction.
Aaron felt his blood boil, he couldn't take Robert's insults right now.
"Yeah go on then! Do one, you saddo! Go run back to Vic and play detective."
Robert stopped suddenly and turned to face Aaron, "You know what, I'll do just that and then I'll find out exactly who did this to Diane. Then I'll watch you thank me for solving it all."
Aaron gulped hard - his heart racing wildly, "Please don't." Aaron whispered slowly as he watched Robert march away angrily. He wanted nothing more than to race over to Robert and beg him to leave things, but he knew he couldn't. Robert hated him just as much as Aaron hated him.
There was only one person who Aaron could turn to now, only one person who could help him figure out what to do next.
"Cain!" Aaron shouted up the stairs as he watched his uncle come plodding down the steps.
"What! I'm tryna fix a shelf up there!" Cain sighed.
Aaron was panting now, completely overwhelmed, "It's ... it's Robert."
Cain tensed slightly, the mention of Robert's name had a big effect on him, "What about him?"
Aaron breathed heavily as tears raced down his cheek, "It's...he wants to find out the truth about what happened to Diane that night. He won't stop until he knows."
Cain felt his blood boil with rage, the thought of Robert knowing about Chas was the last thing he wanted. Robert needed to be stopped.
"I'll sort it." Cain snapped, walking up the stairs.
Suddenly memories of Robert laying unconscious somewhere filled his mind. The last time Cain had tried to 'sort it' things had taken a nasty turn and he was left to save Robert for any more harm. Aaron shook his head quickly, that was back then. That was before Robert had confessed to pushing Katie and before he had turned a gun on him, back when things were different. Back when Aaron was still madly in love with Robert and the thought of him hurt made him defy his own family. Things were different now.
After Robert's shooting, Aaron had managed to successfully block out his feelings for the older man. Allowing himself to recall the painful comments and hurtful lies Robert had cruelly spat, whenever he would occasionally stare to long at his ex lover. It was working up till now. Aaron hated the man with all his heart, yet he still couldn't stand back and let him suffer at the hands of his violent uncle.
"Cain wait!" Aaron shouted following Cain up the stairs.
"What!" Cain said slamming down his tools and staring at Aaron angrily.
"Listen alright I ... I couldn't care less about ... about you beating Robert into keeping quiet, but ... but just think about Vic and Diane...they don't need that! Not now Diane might be on the mend, and Vic can finally stop worrying about everyone. Please there must be another way."
Cain knew Aaron was right, in the past the Sugden's had always been a respectable family in the village and Cain didn't really want to add any extra stress or worry to them. There had to be another way to make Robert stop obsessing over finding out the truth.
Then it hit him. Cain had a special weapon on his side that was sure to jumble and confuse Robert's emotions, instantly distracting him from his detective work. Of course it would, he had someone special, he had the one person who was able to make Robert go crazy over love - he had Aaron. The best weapon in the world. Love.
"You. You're the other option."
Aaron took a step back and looked at Cain confused by what he meant.
"Don't you get it. Robert's only doing all the sleuthing because he has nothing better do focus on. Because his wife might end up behind bars and his boyfriend hates his guts."
Aaron stared at Cain, starting to realise what he meant, "Boyfriend! More like sleazy gay affair gone wrong."
"Oh whatever, the point is Robert is obviously bored witless!"
"And what ... what has that got to do with ... what do you want me to?"
Cain smiled wickedly, "You my friend, are gonna serve as the greatest distraction, using you're charms to make him stay well clear of the case."
Aaron bit his lip and blinked hard, his face fell slightly as he acknowledged what Cain wanted. The thought of being a distraction for Robert made him feel sick, the whole idea filled Aaron with dread.
"You're mad." Aaron said angrily, gritting his teeth and glaring at Cain.
"Oh am I really?" Cain said sternly.
"Yeah. Yeah because if you think that I'd ever ... ever be any sort of distraction as you put it, you've got another thing coming. I can tell you that now!"
Aaron went to walk away and fill his mind with alcohol yet Cain gripped hold of him tightly, "Listen to me alright, you want you're mum to get better don't ya?"
"Of course I do." Aaron said shyly.
"Then keeping Robert sweet for a few weeks shouldn't be a problem alright."
Aaron released himself from Cain's tight grip and walked towards his room. He knew Cain was right. Deep down, the love he had for his mum surely outweighed the hate he had for Robert. Yet his pride was in the way, he couldn't allow Robert to think that he still loved him, still wanted him, when he hated him so badly.
"Aaron. I'm not asking ya to run away with the lad. I'm asking you to try and get close to him again. Close enough for him to feel comfortable in telling you about what his found out about the stabbing."
Aaron turned round sharply, "And then what?"
"Then you come to me and I'll help ya get rid of any evidence he might have against your mum."
Aaron nodded his head, it made sense. It did. But he still couldn't imagine 'getting close' to Robert again. The thought made his skin crawl.
"Cain I hate him...I can't pretend that ... that I want him."
Cain rolled his eyes, "Oh c'mon, just think of it as payback. After all those months of him turning his feelings on and off depending on what his Mrs was up to, now you get to play with his head whilst keeping your mum outta prison."
"I don't want payback, I just want to move on Cain. I can't —"
"Yes you can, and you will." Cain said bluntly, "If you want your mum outta prison, giving Sugden sweet kisses and leading him on won't do you any harm."
"How long am I supposed to keep it up for?" Aaron whispered.
"For as long as it takes for him to realise that searching for evidence is pointless. It might only take a few days."
Aaron scoffed loudly realising that after his argument with Robert, his pride was severely dented and he wouldn't welcome Aaron back so easily.
"I've just had a row with him Cain, he isn't gonna want me to be sniffing round him!"
"Well you managed to keep him interested for all those months when he left his wife to have some fun with ya!"
Aaron rolled his eyes as Cain tried his hardest to add some humour to the situation.
"I know you hate him Aaron, God we all do, but I know how much you love your mum ... and doing this ... it's gonna keep her out of prison."
"I know." Aaron said softly.
"So you'll do it. You'll just ... distract him. Keep him sweet."
Aaron let his anger melt away slightly as he nodded his head, "Yeah. I'll do it."
Cain smiled weakly, proud of his nephew. Aaron turned his back and walked into his bedroom.
"Oh and Aaron, no one needs to know about this. You can keep it quite right? I don't want your mum thinking that you and him are —"
"Got it. Don't worry, I don't want her knowing either — trust me."
Aaron sat on his bed and stared at the walls in front of him. He couldn't believe what he had just agreed to do. He hated Robert and the thought of having to try and win him back was making him feel sick. As far as Aaron knew, Robert wasn't keen on him either. Of course this was wrong. Of course it was all wrong and Robert wanted him badly even after everything.
But Aaron didn't know this, not for sure anyway.
Aaron bit his lip as he tried to figure out how exactly he would try and make Robert realise that he still wanted him somehow. Aaron blinked hard as he realised what he could do. He'd start tomorrow. Giving Robert little signals, as he looked at him longingly from across the pub or asked him how he was doing. And then he'd step it up a gear, he'd make Robert believe that Aaron still thought fondly of their relationship, mentioning moments that used to make him smile. Then Aaron would be able to 'accidentally' bump into Robert and be 'forced' to ask him about Diane and how far he has come with his investigating. There might even be a chance for Robert to 'accidentally' catch Aaron topless in his room and be able to see exactly what he was missing.
Aaron sighed loudly, he couldn't bring himself to think any further than that. He knew he had to distract his ex lover but it didn't mean that he would enjoy it at all. Or maybe even get slightly carried away or caught up in the pretend moments he purposely created right?