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Just a little distraction

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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.

Great.

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?

 

Chapter Text

 

The next day came quicker than Aaron thought it would, soon he found himself walking down the small village road and heading towards the cafe hoping to see Robert there. Aaron's head was banging loudly, the night had been filled with negative thoughts. Aaron had been up all night thinking about what Robert would do if he ever found out the truth, if he ever realised that it was all a game - that he couldn't even love him again. Then those thoughts managed to overwhelm greatly as he imagined Robert's heart broken by the fake love and the cruel lies. Robert's heart ache would easily fuel him to tell the truth, an act of revenge would end with Chas behind bars surely.

Aaron sighed loudly as he entered the cafe and realised Robert wasn't there, even though the thought of seeing Robert usually filled Aaron's heart with dread, right now he needed to see him - he hated how much he wanted to see him. Strictly for distracting purposes right? Of course.

Aaron sat nursing his warm coffee when Robert barged through the door. Aaron rolled his eyes, noticing how the older man was clearly not in the mood to talk to him at all. Robert walked towards the counter, avoiding Aaron who sat quietly in the corner and quickly ordered himself an americano.

The whole morning hadn't gone to plan for Robert at all, which is why he was in such a ridiculously bad mood already. His investigation hadn't got to the best start considering Diane couldn't remember a thing and Chas wasn't helping matters at all. The thought of the case coming to absolutely nothing, made Robert's blood boil. He needed justice for Diane, and this was the only way he could find it. The sound of the coffee machine grabbed Robert's attention back into the room and suddenly he felt his eyes meet Aaron's. For a second the two ex lovers lingered slightly, as if they were mesmerised by each other, madly in love and oblivious to the struggles they both individually faced.

It was Aaron who ripped his eyes away first, knowing full well that he had gazed long enough to mess with Robert's head slightly. Aaron smiled to himself weakly as he watched the confusion build in Robert's eyes as he turned and faced the counter once more. His plan was working.

Robert faced the counter, the bewilderment managing to make him feel uneasy about the entire situation. He couldn't lie to himself, he knew that he had purposefully looked too long, he knew that he had held his gaze and managed to be swept up in Aaron's eyes. He had been completely hypnotised by Aaron so easily. Robert shook his head and felt his heart beat faster, he hated feeling like this. He hated how easily Aaron was able to make him feel this way - how easy he was able to feel madly in love all over again. It scared him, how badly one long look from Aaron instantly made his heart flutter wildly. After all this time.

Robert murmured a small thank you to Bob before turning back round and facing the door, desperate to leave the cafe without making his affection any more obvious. Yet Aaron had other ideas, for the first time since the whole scheme was thought up - Aaron felt fired up and ready to spring the plan into action. It made sense to strike now, when Robert was obviously grumpy and slightly embarrassed. He knew how he worked, he knew that right now Robert's ego would be massively bruised so he would try even harder to find out the truth in order to inflate it once more. It was typical Robert and something that Aaron couldn't afford to happen just now.

"Oi." Aaron said playfully kicking his leg out, almost causing Robert to trip up.

Robert tutted to himself as he saw the Aaron's cheeky looking face, "What?" Robert said bluntly.

Aaron cleared his throat, how could he go on trying to play nice, when Robert was so against it all?

"Cain said that you need to ask Victoria to order some new stock for the pub." Aaron lied. It was the only plausible explanation for him even having a conversation with his ex lover who didn't seem up for any sort of discussion whatsoever.

Robert eased the tension in his shoulders as he looked at Aaron and realised that there was no longer any anger in his eyes.

Aaron bit his lip as he saw Robert staring and him the way he used to do, he could see a glisten in his eyes that was usually reserved for special moments.

Maybe this was one of them?

In all honesty Aaron didn't care about the reasons behind the glow Robert was now displaying after a small remark by him, all he knew was that he had to use Robert's confused mind to his advantage, adding more confusion was the best way to get to Robert's heart properly.

Aaron sipped his coffee as he watched Robert fidget with his shoes, waiting for him to say something, anything to break the silence which was allowing Aaron to dwell on the entire situation and become overwhelmed with worry and negativity.
Robert finally opened his mouth to speak, realising that he hadn't said anything back to Aaron and feared that the younger man had acknowledged his obviously distracted mind.

"Er ... yeah okay." Robert turned round sharply and headed towards the door once more.

This time Aaron shouted out for him to wait, making sure that Robert spotted the desperation behind it. Robert stood dead in his tracks and slowly turned back round to Aaron who was now wearing a sympathetic smile.

"How ... how's Diane doing ... is she okay?"

Robert stood staring at Aaron once more, completely thrown by the sense of concern building in Aaron's voice. But why? Why would Aaron care, why would he care at all about how Robert was feeling?

After all the pain and suffering Robert had caused Aaron's loved ones why would he care at all about Robert's loved ones and how they were dealing and coping with things. It didn't make sense. Not at all.

"She's getting better." Robert said awkwardly still bewildered by his ex lovers interest, "Why?"

Aaron swallowed hard, growing nervous about the lies he would tell imminently, "Well ... I care." Aaron nodded slowly. "I always have, you know that."

Robert blinked quickly, 'What was that supposed to mean?' Robert thought to himself.

It didn't make sense at all as Robert's head pounded with confusion. Instantly he recalled the way Aaron had so softly uttered the words, paying extra attention to the words 'care' and 'always'. Saying that he had always cared meant so much didn't it? It must have meant that he had always cared about not only Diane or the whole situation but maybe just maybe he had always cared about Robert. He had never stopped caring, after all this time.

Robert sighed slowly not knowing what to say in response and quickly resulting in a tiny shake of the head, swiftly followed by a successful exit of the cafe at last.

Aaron's head banged with pain and regret, as soon as he had said those words, he knew that it had been a mistake. A bitter sweet feeling started to travel through Aaron, of course he had hoped and wished Robert's eyes would light up with happiness - yet something about it all felt wrong. Leading Robert on this way and making him feel confused and almost lost.

Then it hit him. Cain was right, this wasn't just stopping Robert from finding out the truth - this was his best chance at revenge. The only reason why Aaron felt this sense of guilt was because he had experienced the same pain himself, by the same man. Robert had played with his emotions for months, pushing him away and then pulling him back in again whenever he felt like having another night away with his secret gay bit on the side.

Aaron shook his head in frustration, angry that he had even allowed himself to feel any sort of sympathy for the man who had messed with his heart so badly. Aaron rested his head against the wall as he smiled slowly, thankful for his rational thoughts that wouldn't ever allow him to feel anything but hate for the man who destroyed things so horribly ... right?

After the morning at the cafe, Cain was already on his case asking him if everything was going to plan. Of course Aaron had to convince Cain that everything was okay, that he didn't experience a secre moment of weakness and even felt sorry for what he was about to do to Robert.

"Everything's fine alright," Aaron whispered.

"It better be! Diane doesn't remember a thing and we're counting on you to sort things out with Robert."

Aaron blinked quickly, "We? Who else have you told!"

Cain sighed loudly, "Only Moira. She's my wife and I have to tell her something, she thought I was planning on finishing Robert off or something."

Aaron rolled his eyes in frustration, "Yeah. Just telling her that I'm messing with his head to distract him from the truth is fine then!"

The thought of Moira knowing and then maybe Adam knowing made Aaron feel uneasy. How could he expect Adam not to tell his wife the truth, when her brother was getting used so badly and he knew the real culprit. It would destroy his marriage and their friendship.

"I thought you said you're alright with it.” Cain said agitated by his nephew's nervous demeanour.

Aaron straightened up and tried to control his breathing slightly, "I am, it's just —"

"Just what?" Cain edged closer, "I thought you could handle Sugden."

"Of course I can!"

"Look at ya! You're all edgy and nervous what's gotten into ya?"

"Nothing." Aaron snapped angrily before walking away from his uncle.

"Aaron." Cain shouted after him before walking towards him, "If you'd rather I sort this then just say the word and I'll —"

Aaron's heart skipped a beat, he hated what he was doing but he couldn't allow Cain to do his worst, "No! No ... no it's fine don't worry yourself. Leave it with me."

Cain smiled, "Good." Cain turned away from Aaron before calling back to him, "By the way Adam said he needs you to look over some files and sign stuff when you have the chance."

 

*^*


Aaron nodded slowly, pulling out his phone and ringing Adam's number.

"Hey mate, Cain said you want me to look at some stuff and sign it?"

"Yeah just the renewing of some deals and that, it won't take to long but-" Adam said sweetly. Aaron rolled his eyes, he knew what was coming next. Adam obviously needed a favour doing.

"What do you want?" Aaron said laughing to himself as he imagined Adam trying his hardest to win him round.

"You're not gonna like it." Adam laughed down the phone.

Aaron rolled his eyes, "Try me."

"Well ... your favourite person in whole wide world ..."

"Go on." Aaron said walking towards the pub bench outside.

"Well apart from Tom Daley of course!" Adam continued.

"Just go on Adam I've got things to do!" Aaron could hear Adam laughing again, this time he couldn't help but join his friend in the fits of laughter that managed to lighten the mood.

"It's Robert mate."

Suddenly the mood changed, Aaron felt a heavy weight fall round his neck.

Why was Robert on Adam's mind?

"Since the scrap yard was up and running, he's being having meetings with me to check progress."

Aaron gulped hard, the thought of Robert being in their office wasn't the greatest of things to imagine. Yes of course he had his investment which gave him rights to the business but the whole silent partner bit seemed to have been forgotten over the past few months obviously. Yet the thought of Robert meeting up with his best mate still made him feel annoyed, irritated even.

"What what's that got to do with me?" Aaron said, trying is hardest to sound as unfazed as possible.

"Well ... we’re supposed to be having one today and ... well this guy is giving me a really hard time with this deal and I don't think I'll be back in time."

"Just reschedule, it's not a bit deal."

"Aaron he needs to see the books today —"

"Oh please. Adam, he's just chucking his weight around, don't let him push ya about. Anyway after everything with Diane recently I don't think his mind is really on a poxy scrapyard!" Aaron said angrily, letting his frustration escape him messily.

"Alright mate. I just hoped that you'd buy some time for me or something but never mind eh!"

Aaron went to speak and then realised exactly what this would mean. He would have time alone with Robert. Properly alone. It was the perfect scenario, Aaron and Robert alone in the porta cabin that held so many memories. The very place that Aaron and Robert had reignited their fiery passionate affair, all those months ago. It was the perfect place to distract Robert completely - reminding him of the good times and hinting at their future was sure to make him even more confused right?

"We hate each other Adam."

"I'm not asking ya to snog his face off, just ... chuck insults at each other until I get there."

It was funny really when Aaron thought about it. Here was yet another person asking him to keep Robert distracted, as if he had some sort of magic powers over him.

"Fine then." Aaron said getting up from the bench and heading towards the scrap yard, "I'll keep him sweet."

The walk to the scrap yard room was longer than Aaron had expected, he hated how it gave him time to think things through and become nervous about the prospect of lying even more. Aaron sighed slowly, the entire situation was draining completely him out. Even as he walked towards the small porta cabin the feeling of dread hadn't escapes him yet. It was only growing. How could Robert lie so easily, all the time.

It was killing him already.

Aaron unlocked the door to the porta cabin and walked inside, the cold air hit him quickly as he tried his hardest to warm himself up. Rubbing his hands together and edging towards the desk, Aaron felt sick as his mind became jammed with information.

What could he say to Robert to make him stay?

He had done his fair share of terrible lies and subtle flirting for the day and the thought of having to keep Robert occupied for however long didn't sit well with him at all.

Aaron sighed hard, anxiously awaiting Robert's arrival was putting him on edge, the shaking of his leg had managed to steady Aaron's nerves slightly but the negative thoughts were still there. The thought of Robert lashing out once more and calling him names made his heart race, how would he be able to bite his tongue? After everything that had happened between them, how could he paint on a smile and make out like he has forgiven Robert for everything he had done. Aaron rolled his eyes, imagining Robert hurling abuse at him as his confused mind began to feel uneasy around Aaron.

That was the last thing he needed, Robert becoming almost scared by Aaron's actions and feeling undeserving of his love, and then just shutting him out completely. Aaron smiled weakly, the thought made him laugh as he realised how unlike Robert the whole idea was, as if he would ever think he wasn't worthy.

Robert bit his lip as he gazed at his phone and saw a reminder light up on his screen. 'Meeting with Adam' Robert rolled his eyes as he realised exactly what the meeting would involve. Adam was particularly useless whenever Robert needed to look through any books, Aaron was always better. Of course this was incredibly biased of Robert to think, but it was true. Even as they met up secretly throughout their affair, and the buisness was brought up in conversation, Aaron always seemed to know what he was talking about.

Back then Robert had always thought Aaron was just showing off and trying to impress him with his knowledge, yet the more and more time he spent in Adams company- the more apparent Aaron's knowledge on the matter came to light. To say Adam knew nothing about scrapping was harsh, very harsh for Robert to say. He knew quite a fair bit about deliveries and companies that supplied the scrap yard yet when it came down to the actual books - he hadn't a clue at all. Robert sighed heavily remembering his last meeting with Adam where his stupidness became especially apparent.

"So how much are we paying for each tonne of scrap from Harely and Co?" Robert has asked bluntly in their last meeting.

Adam sat nervously on the seat opposite his brother in law, almost instantly anxious as his mind went blank,
"Er well I ... that's more of what Aaron does actually."

Robert rolled his eyes, "What negotiate with the companies on prices?"

"Yeah and sort the deliveries out."

Robert couldn't help but hide his growing grin as he imagined Aaron dealing with customers and haggling with high prices.

Something about it, made Robert feel giddy and almost nervous - turned on by the thought of Aaron taken charge.

"Er well ... why am I meeting with you then?"

"Because Aaron doesn't want to go anywhere near ya." Adam shouted, frustrated by Robert's harsh tone.

Robert nodded slowly, "Listen next time you just make sure you sort things out before I come alright?" Robert snapped, picking up his folder and charging for the door. "Or I'll have no choice but to reconsider my investment"

Adam stared wide eyed at Robert, "You're joking me right? You can't do that to us."

"Well by the sounds of it, Aaron is doing all the work at the moment so —"

"How dare ya! I'm pulling my weight too, you know how hard it's been since your wife nearly burnt the place down!"

Robert sighed loudly, knowing that Adam was completely right, "Whatever just ... just be prepared next time!"

As Robert made his way to the scrap yard he wished that Adam was prepared this time, he wasn't in the mood for any more awkward silences as Adam tried to come up with the right response. After the whole events of the morning, Robert's mind was almost overwhelmed with confusion. Aaron had made him feel all warm and gooey instantly but odd and uneasy at the same time. Why? Why was the real question Robert wanted to know the answer to. After all this time, the though of Aaron being remotely civil to him still made his heart race.

Unlocking the door to the scrap yard, Robert tripped on the step and stumbled into the room quickly.

Instantly his eyes met Aaron's who was now resting against his chair impatiently.

"Er what are you doing here?" Robert asked Aaron.

Aaron shot up quickly, "I'm just checking through some things."

"Right well I'm supposed to be meeting Adam but obviously he isn't here so I'll just —"

"No don't go." Aaron shouted, lifting from his chair and racing over to Robert who was now opening the door.

For a moment, Aaron gently touched Robert's arm and a familiar feeling travelled through both of their bodies. It felt as though a surge of electricity had pushed through Robert and sparked the passion he felt once more. Aaron felt it too. He felt an instant lustful feeling as he realised how close they were to one another. It was the first time they had been this close for months and yet it felt almost natural. Too natural for Aaron to handle.

Aaron let go hastily, alerting Robert who had almost become transfixed by the moment they shared. Aaron bent his head as he realised that instantly he had managed to make things worse between them, letting go of him so quickly might have given his whole game away. He couldn't let or happen.

"Just stay here, he won't be too long." Aaron said softly.

"Fine, whatever." Robert mumbled, confused once again by Aaron's almost desperate tone of voice.

Why would he want him to stay?

"So ... about yesterday." Robert said biting his lip.

It was weighing heavily on his mind now. The way they both had managed to chuck insults at each other and walk away so easily, and then today greet each other and be almost caring. It was playing with his head and he needed to see where Aaron stood exactly.

"What about yesterday?"

"I was out of line ... what I said about Paddy."

Aaron nodded his head, as he recalled the way his ex had so nastily spat words about Paddy. The thought was making his blood boil with anger, but he had to hide ur the best way he could.

"Don't worry about it. I said some things to." Aaron sighed looking away from Robert.

"You don't look okay about it." Robert said, daring to find out the truth.

Aaron turned to face him quickly, "Well I am, don't worry." He said trying to reassure Robert.

"For what's it's worth, which is probably not that much, I'm sorry." Robert said softly.

Aaron was taken aback by the sencerity in Robert's voice. It was genuine. Surprising and even odd. He wasn't used to apologies from Robert at all, and he was almost struggling to accept it - he hated how easily he believed him. He had nothing to say back so nodded slowly, signalling his acceptance.

Robert sat down slowly, staring at his watch eagerly awaiting Adam's return.

"Aaron ... maybe it's me. Maybe I'm seeing things or ..."

"What are you talking about?"

"Today, you acted like ... like you cared about Diane —"

"I do care, of course I care you know that."

"Why?" Robert snapped loudly, "Why would you care?"

"Because Diane took me in years ago when I was a nightmare, she put up with me after everything."

Robert dropped his head, "I didn't mean her. The way you were today ... I thought that —"

Aaron nodded his head slowly, thankful that Robert was now confused enough to actual ask him concrete questions. How could he play this now? Aaron scrambled round his brain, he wasn't ready to reassure Robert of his 'undying affection' just yet. As soon as he did, the lies would get even more serious and he couldn't handle that just yet. Instead he'd be ambiguous, hinting at his love and then snatching it away just like Robert did.

"Well ... I always found a way of forgiving ya didn't I." Aaron said smiling shyly.

Robert lifted his head as he stared at Aaron once again completely confused by his words. Before he could reply, Adam raced through the door with papers clinging to the folder in his hand.

"Hiya ... er sorry I'm late." Adam said to Robert as he placed the folder on his desk, "Looks like everything was fine here though, you're still in one piece eh?" Adam said jokingly to Robert who had ignored every word he has said. His mind busy elsewhere, as he continued to stare at Aaron who seemed entirely unfazed by the loose comment he had added to their private conversation.

"Well I'll just ..." Aaron said getting up from the chair and walking towards the door, "See you around." Aaron said staring at Adam and then quickly gazing at Robert, making the goodbye even more confusing as Robert sat undecided if it was for him or Aaron's best mate.

"Right then ... you'll be pleased to know that I spoke to Aaron the other day and I've got all the books in order."

Robert nodded slowly, trying his hardest to concentrate on Adam.

"Robert!" Adam shouted, seeing how dazed Robert seemed, "Stop day dreaming."

Robert couldn't stop thinking about it. What did Aaron mean? Robert had no idea what Aaron was thinking, not really. He didn't know whether Aaron was hinting at a possible reunion between them or was only messing around. It pained him to think that it was only sarcasm, the more and more he thought about it, the more stupid it all sounded.

No of course it was a joke, Aaron was just playing around. There was no way Aaron would ever even consider getting back with Robert and forgiving him. He had been there before, he had forgiving Robert of all his mistakes and then been slapped round the face by him all over again as another lie or hateful word escaped his lovers mouth. He wouldn't ever put himself though it again, would he?

Robert sighed as he wrestled with his thoughts, of course he was lying - right?

 

Chapter Text

The confusion Robert felt seemed to triple over the next few days as Aaron began to show even more subtle signs of affection that made Robert question himself entirely. He couldn't deny the butterflies that filled inside him every time Aaron gave him a longing look. He couldn't help it. The sweet tingling sensation that fizzed inside him whenever Aaron showed him even an ounce of attention had managed to overwhelm almost all his thoughts. Soon Robert found himself questioning everything Aaron did, he knew him well enough to know if his feelings were genuine. Even when Aaron was truly happy, an honest smile on his face was always rare and special.

Yet Robert had received one. Robert of all people. More questions flooded his mind and soon the younger man had managed to overwhelm his thoughts.

Only Aaron was on his mind and he couldn't help but love it.

 

^*^

 

Robert decided the best way to sort out his confused mind was to focus on something else, something constructive which involved definite answers. Who exactly stabbed Diane. The question was still a major topic in the village and although no arrests had been made, people still managed to get their suspicions heard. It was mostly mindless gossip, yet the more Robert heard of possible scenarios the more curious he became. It was a mystery really. Why exactly would someone break into a small quite Yorkshire village, smash a few windows and then stab the land lady without take even a bit of the petty cash lying around? It didn't make sense.

As Robert sat in the pub, his eyes meet Chas' who was now appearing from the back in her dressing grown and pouring herself a small glass of something from the handles. He couldn't help but notice her dark circles and startled expression that alarmed him. Instantly his thoughts turned back to Aaron and how he must be dealing with it all, it was clear to see how damaged and effected his mum had become because of the stabbing. Robert bit his lip as he remembered Chas' stalking that had mysteriously stopped after the fatal night, the sharp knife could have easily been for her instead of his step mother. It would explain why Aaron had been so upset and emotional the other day when he was drinking away his problems.

Robert sighed loudly as he watched her sip away quietly almost in some sort of trance. He needed to know exactly what had happen that night and maybe Chas was the answer, she was the only person who Robert hadn't had the chance to question. It would be difficult though - considering how much Chas hated him, he'd have to try his best before it was too late. Now was time.

Robert edged over to the bar quietly and leaned his head over, "Er pint please Chas." He said softly looking at Chas who had now finished the small glass and was staring blankly in his direction. "When you're ready."

Chas walked towards him and quickly poured his pint. Her heart was racing as she tried her hardest to eliminate any small talk but racing over to the till and slotting in the coins Robert gave her.

"So ... how have you been?" Robert said bluntly.

Chas stared at the man who she hated really. Of course the guilt she felt was beginning to override these feelings and soon a smile began to form on her face, "Getting there. How's Diane?"

"Yeah she's on the mend they reckon." Robert smiled wildly.

"That's great." Chas said softly trying her hardest not to seem top guilty or shifty.

"The thing is ..." Robert said leaning over even more, "That's all great and ... I'm happy but I can't help but wonder who did it."

Chas felt her eye twitch uncontrollably as she imagined Robert beginning to piece together the puzzle and find her guilty of the crime.

"Do you know anything that could help?" Robert said softly staring at Chas innocently.

Chas began to question her thoughts, now could be the time to confess. To own up and make things slightly better for everyone right?

"Robert ... I—"

 

^*^

 

Aaron walked out of the living room and stopped dead in his tracks when he heard his mum and Robert talking. His heart began to race as he realised that still his mother wasn't ready to talk to anyone and not give the entire game away. As much as Aaron hated all the lying, it would be worth it in the end - he couldn't risk his mum going to prison.

Robert sat wide eyed, intrigued by Chas' pause, "Go on ... if you know something that might help than please —"

Aaron had heard enough, fearing for his mum Aaron jumped through to the pub and met Robert's eyes instantly.

The atmosphere in the room changed as Robert gazed at Aaron, there was some sort of twinkle in Aaron's eye that managed to control Robert's thoughts all too easily. Within an instant Robert had completely lost interest in his conversation with Chas.

Everything else seemed pointless as he watched Aaron shuffle on his feet slightly and look in his direction.

"You alright?" Aaron said softly staring at Chas.

"Yeah course ..." Chas said sharply turning round and looking at her son, "Yeah I'm ... I'm fine."

"Why don't you go back through I'll keep an eye on the bar for you." Aaron said weakly as he watched his mum become more and more fragile.

Chas nodded slowly and walked away into the back room, leaving Robert feeling slightly frustrated as he began to realise he had lost his chance. The feeling didn't stay for long though. Aaron was on the case, and ready to distract him from his thoughts.

Aaron edged towards his ex lover and began wiping down the bar taps, "You good?"

Robert ripped his eyes away from his pint and stared at Aaron wildly, "Err yeah I'm ... fine."

Aaron bit his lip as he turned away from Robert momentarily, realising that although Robert seemed interested - his mind was still elsewhere.

"What's up?" Aaron whispered.

Robert opened his mouth slightly, trying to voice his worries and concerns to Aaron was something he never was ever really good at. Even when things were better between them and Aaron and him were alone together, Robert found it hard to open up. So you can imagine Robert's hesitation now. You can imagine why exactly he'd question why Aaron seemed to care at all about him.

"Nothing." Robert mumbled staring away from his ex lover and trying not to fall for his gaze.

Aaron rolled his eyes, he hated having to pretend like he was clueless when in reality he knew exactly why Robert seemed so troubled - he had nearly discovered the truth from Chas. A few seconds longer and Chas would have told him the truth or at least something worth while and now he was alone once more.

Aaron sighed softly, watching Robert distance himself from Aaron was almost unbearable to watch. Sooner or later Robert would discover the truth and Chas would be locked up. The last few days hadn't had much effect on him at all, subtle moments seemed to go by yet Aaron's attention was placed elsewhere. Chas had deteriorated suddenly and her guilt had rose dramatically, causing Aaron to almost abandon his mission entirely.

Aaron ripped his eyes away from Robert, suddenly irritated by Robert's bluntness after reminding himself of how much his mum needed him at the moment. Robert noticed the shift in atmosphere as Aaron busied himself and ignored him completely. Once again Aaron had overwhelmed his mind and the thought of him annoyed made him re think his blunt response before. His mind was filled with confusion yet the more Robert thought about how Aaron had been treating him over the last week, the more he felt thankful for it.

He knew full well that he didn't deserve any sort of affection or even attention from Aaron Livesy. Not after everything. Yet right now, Robert realised that without the attention and the care he was receiving from Aaron, things would feel much worse. The truth was that Aaron was seemingly holding Robert together and although the guilt Robert felt about needing Aaron so badly would only grow he couldn't deny it anymore.

How could he fight it, when Aaron was offering his care so easily?

Aaron turned back round to see Robert who now had a small smile on his face, excitement grew inside Aaron as he saw that Robert has somehow managed to become more happy. Well not excitement, he honestly didn't care about Robert more relief - right? Aaron grabbed the chance that was being presented eagerly, "Fancy another?" he said sweetly as he watched Robert give him an almost apologetic stare.

"Nah I'm alright thanks." Robert said smiling back at Aaron.

Aaron scoffed loudly, ready to trap Robert in his lies even more.

"You could never really hold your drink could ya!"

Robert relieved the stress in his shoulders as he became to sit more comfortably on his chair, "Oh whatever!"

"You know I'm right. Remember that time you ordered a bottle of the finest bubbles at that hotel and then was throwing up after your third glass!"

Robert beamed at Aaron and instantly Aaron knew his little plan had worked, he had made Robert remember the good times, relive the small pleasures they shared and recall the simpler times. Robert's mind quickly became overrun with memories that made him feel slightly melancholy and almost sad as he sat across the bar from his ex lover. Aaron's eyes began to twinkle as he realised that his words did indeed have the desired effect. Robert had forgotten about Diane and the stabbing momentarily and his mind was fully focused on thinking about the times he shared with Aaron.

Knowing full well that Aaron had succeeded in his ploy to make Robert felt more comfortable and relaxed, he began to question Robert about the stabbing, "So, how's Diane and the whole you know looking for the guy." Aaron said shyly.

Robert stared back at Aaron, "She's doing okay, still haven't found a lot out about the actual stabbing though. Your mum seems pretty shaken up."

Aaron fidgeted slightly, wondering if Robert was suspicious of her behaviour, "Well you know...it could have been her."

"Yeah." Robert gazed down and then looked back up again quickly, "I'm sorry about you know given up a hard time ... the other day." Robert said softly, reasoning that Aaron was probably under a lot of pressure and yet still managed to turn his attention towards his terrible ex.

Aaron nodded slowly, "I said before ... it's fine."

Robert slid down on his chair slightly, "Don't worry though, I've got someone on the case for me."

Aaron nearly dropped the towel in his hand, shocked at what Robert had just said, "You what?" Aaron shouted.

Robert stared at him confused by his sudden outburst, "Joel. Some guy he ... his on the case finding out some sort for me about the night." Robert said, still bewildered by Aaron's sudden concern and attention to his words.

"Doesn't that sound a bit ... dodgy." Aaron stumbled instantly easing Robert's confusion as he imagined Aaron scared for his safety over this 'dodgy' Joel. Once again Aaron had been able to tug at his heart strings and he couldn't help but feel touched by it.

"Don't worry about it honestly it's all under control." Robert whispered leaning over the bar lazily.

Of course this wasn't what Aaron meant at all, Robert's safety was the least of his worries at the moment. He needed to know exactly who this bloke was and find out how much he knew.

"Does ... is he some bent police officer or something?" Aaron asked trying his best to use the concerned tone Robert thought he had.

"Nah, but his got connections." Robert said slyly.

Aaron nodded his head slowly, "And how does it work?"

Robert raised his head, thinking that the more he was telling Aaron the more concerned and worried Aaron would become.

"Don't worry. You don't need to know." Robert whispered.

Aaron felt like kicking himself as he saw Robert dart his eyes away from him as he tried to change the conversation to another topic. Robert was staring at Aaron and couldn't help but beam with happiness. How couldn't believe how lucky he was, after everything Aaron still seemed to care about Robert and he had to take matters into his own hands.

"Er, Aaron." Robert said slowly.

Aaron stared back shyly, "Yeah?"

Robert's heart was racing. Could he? Could he really ask him out...well just for some drinks later on? Suddenly he remembered how on and off Aaron could be and he realised he couldn't risk the embarrassment, but then again Aaron had every right to be confused about how he was treating Robert after everything. Right?

"I was just ... just wondering if ... if your around later ... maybe I could buy you a drink or something."

Aaron gulped hard. This was perfect, it would be the perfect chance to make Robert own up to exactly what he was doing with this Joel who seemed to be his own little private investigator. The alcohol flowing would soon loosen Robert up, after all he really couldn't handle his drink.

Then Aaron paused.

He soon realised that he was becoming a little too excited about the prospect of going on a 'date' with Robert and quickly had to recall some of the horrible things he had done in the past. It was the only way to keep him sane, to keep Robert away from his thoughts. It was working though, every terrible thing Robert had ever done was beginning to surface and soon Aaron found himself hating the man with the same passion he had before the conversation started. It didn't stop him though, the hate he felt, it somehow managed to fuel him.

"Err." Aaron stumbled.

"It's okay you ... you don't have to."

"No it's eleven." Aaron said. Suddenly pausing as he looked to Robert's left and saw Paddy staring at him with a shocked expression painting his face.

"Paddy." Aaron whispered, nervous about how long he had been standing there. The last thing he needed was for Paddy to think Aaron was still interested in Robert after everything, he knew that Paddy would soon tell Chas and then all hell would break loose. Yet he couldn't tell him about his plan, he knew that Paddy would talk him out of it, telling him that Robert would find out and go crazy again. He didn't need to hear about how much Robert is a 'dangerous man' truth is he knew now exactly what type of man Robert was and he didn't need reminding every day.

"I'm sorry did I just hear that right?" Paddy shouted, staring at Robert with disgust.

Robert blinked hard, realising that Paddy had heard every word and was now more angry than ever. He didn't need this.

"Paddy wait —" Aaron said softly.

"No Aaron! I will not just wait." Paddy said angrily pointing his finger at Aaron.

"I should be going." Robert said slowly getting up from his chair and whispering to Aaron some sort of apology.

Aaron suddenly felt his heart beat a little faster. Why? He want guilty at all, Robert deserved that - right?

"Oh no Sugden you don't get away that easily!" Paddy said continuing to shout as Robert tried to leave the pub.
Robert turned round slowly.

"Who do you think you are eh?" Paddy said staring at Robert. "After everything that's happened, you honestly think he'd ever go near you again?" He continued staring at Aaron now.

"Keep your voice down, mum's through the back!" Aaron snapped loudly, dreading his mum coming out and asking what the hell was going on.

"Maybe she should hear this!" Paddy whispered to Aaron before turning back to Robert, "He's been going through hell with his mum and what you think you'd just swoop in and make him forget what a sick pathetic man you are!"

Robert gulped loudly and turned to face Aaron who was now staring at the ground, "Diane's been stabbed okay! I ... I was just trying to-"

"To what? Make things right, try and find some common ground. You're pathetic."

"I want to make things right!" Robert snapped.

Paddy scoffed loudly, "Well listen here mate." Paddy turned and pointed to Aaron who was now staring back up at the scene, "He doesn't want anything to do with you at all. Isn't that right Aaron?"

Aaron felt his heart race wildly. What could he say? He needed to reassure Paddy but he couldn't destroy all the heard work and progress he had made over the last week. Earning Robert's trust to the point where he was offering to buy him a drink.

Aaron saw the look in Paddy's eyes and quickly realised that he couldn't disappoint him anymore. He owed it to him after all the pain Robert had caused him over the last year, threatening Leo and shooting him. How could he betray him so badly by not agreeing?

"Yeah." Aaron whispered, avoiding Robert's gaze, "Of course it is."

Robert stared back at Aaron as he felt a wave of heartache rush through him, he looked completely deflated by the whole situation. Fed up and beaten by Paddy's cruel words and Aaron's agreement.

Aaron couldn't hear anymore, he couldn't help but feel a sense of guilt rushing through him. It scared him slightly, the amount of emotion that was pouring out of him. There was something about his innocent expression or the way he hasn't fought back at all that Aaron found endearing slightly.

Robert nodded his head slowly and turned towards the door before rushing out and racing towards his car. Instantly he felt sick with embarrassment and guilt.

Paddy has made it crystal clear, he was right. Everything he said was completely spot on, yet Robert still hated all of it. How could he have been so stupid? Deep down Robert knew that Aaron was only probably acting like he was because of how overwhelmed things were for him at home. He knew that Aaron probably saw him as an escape from the pressure of home, but he couldn't hide his disappointment.

The home truths spat by Paddy had managed to completely destroy any sort of (albeit naïve) warm feelings he felt towards Aaron. Robert couldn't help but recall the way Aaron had replied to Paddy's words, at first he was trying to stop him but then he soon feel silent. As if Paddy's words were finally make him see the truth. And then his agreement. The thing that managed to hurt him to most. He knew in that moment that he couldn't feel like this anymore, not when Aaron clearly was confused about how he felt. He couldn't need him the way he did, or rely on his smile from across the room to make him feel better anymore.

 

^*^

 

An hour passed and Aaron found himself still mopping about in the pub, overwhelmed with shame and frustration. How on earth could he go back from this? Just then Aaron felt a familiar grip squeeze his right shoulder.

"Guess who I just saw." Cain said sitting opposite Aaron.

"Not now Cain I'm not in the mood."

"Well I can tell you two other people who aren't either!" Cain said staring at Aaron angrily.

Aaron rolled his eyes, "I take it you've seen Robert and Paddy then."

Cain nodded his head quickly, "Well I saw lover boy heading up to the old cricket bat place, mopping around just like you and then Paddy filled me in. Asking you out on a date was he? Bless him."

Aaron lifted up from his chair suddenly, "This isn't funny Cain! I had to tell him I wasn't interested, Paddy made me!"

Cain sighed loudly, "Don't tell me you actually feel sorry for him."

"Of course not!" Aaron said loudly.

"I swear to god Aaron if you do you need your head testing out!"

"Whatever..." Aaron said trying to steer the conversation in a different direction, "Oh and the best part was, before he came marching in Robert nearly told me about this bloke Joel who his for working for him."

"Joel? What's he doing for him?" Cain asked eagerly.

"Well I don't know do I!" Aaron snapped back.

"Listen, give it some time and then just win him back round." Cain said slowly.

Aaron rolled his eyes, "We don't have time alright, for all we knew this Joel guy has already got some stuff on mum."

"Well then try harder!" Cain said frustrated. "Why do I feel like you give a toss about how he's feeling?

Aaron lifted his head up slowly, "I ... I've told you alright of course I don't care. But if he hates me it's a bit hard to get him interested again."

"Why? You hated him but you still crawled back!" Cain said angrily.

"That's...that's —" Aaron said stumbling on his words badly.

"Listen here Aaron, he messed you about all the time, he didn't give a toss about how you felt just as long as he was happy with his posh wife and ... poxy business."

Aaron nodded slowly, thankful that Cain was able to wash away the guilt he had about the situation.

"You either convince him you were lying to Paddy or your mum goes to prison. Your choice mate." Cain said before getting up and marching towards the door.

 

^*^

 

A few more hours passed and night feel quickly as Aaron retired to his room, feeling much better about himself. Aaron soon realised how quickly he was able to switch his feelings on and off, almost instantly as soon as Robert wasn't around, the seductive smile or longing gaze could disappear so easily - right? The overwhelming presence of Cain had for once served great purpose, the hate he could spit about Aaron's ex lover was toxic and vile.

And it was exactly what Aaron needed to stop him from feeling remotely interested in the trouble making older man. Aaron was completely in control - right?

Yet at night, alone in a cold bed he once shared with Robert, his feelings were different. 'What if?' circled round his head as he began to focus his attention on a life with Robert without the lies and stress. It was in these moments where Aaron wasn't in control at all, where he was weak and naive.

The day's events seemed to swirl round and round in his head as he tried to fall asleep somewhat peacefully. The thought of Robert hating him now made him sick with fear, he needed to make him see that he did care about him. Aaron raised from his bed, pulled a hoddie over himself and took a chance. It wasn't too late and maybe Robert was still at the old cricket pavilion, it was quiet there - the perfect place for them to talk things through. The perfect place for Aaron to convince Robert that he was lying to Paddy without anyone else around.

Aaron raced down the stairs and out the back door, disappearing into the night.

Only Robert was on his mind and he couldn't help but hate it.

 

Chapter Text

 

Aaron walked towards the old pavilion silently, his mind crammed with ideas on how to make Robert fall for him all over again. It was going to easy, at all. Robert was a prideful man and now it had been shattered. He had been embarrassed badly and now he had to face the man who had caused it, Robert wasn't going to be happy. The air was unusually fresh on the cold night as Aaron walked down the small path and suddenly spotted Robert sitting rather awkwardly on the steps.

Robert hadn't moved for hours, only ever lifting up his arm up high as he slurped more and more of his beer. Robert wanted nothing more than to just be able to disappear, the humiliation he felt was easing slightly with ever sip - yet the thought of Aaron hating him still lingered.

Aaron carefully walked over the muddy field, silently approaching Robert, "Thought you'd be here."

Robert raised his head up slowly, "What?" confusion filled his mind as he saw that it was Aaron. Aaron. The man who a few hours ago made his feelings pretty clear, he wasn't interested.

Aaron slowly sat next to Robert, putting his hands out and signalling for Robert to pass him a beer.

"What do you want?" Robert snapped quickly handing Aaron the drink.

Aaron gulped hard thinking of what to say was becoming tricky. How could he be carefully delicate with Robert's emotions but still seem forgiving and flirty?

"Well I just...you seemed...after the whole pub thing..."

Robert chucked loudly, now feeling slightly drunk.

"Oh you mean when you told Paddy you don't want anything to do with me?"

"Yeah. That." Aaron said sharply, the guilt he had was passing as he saw how pathetic Robert seemed. He was slipping down the side of the steps, falling slowly as he became even more intoxicated.

"Well as you can see..." Robert smiled weakly forcing himself to get up, "I'm absolutely fine mate!"

"Yeah looks like it." Aaron muttered.

"What you thought I'd be crying into my pillow or something!" Robert laughed trying his hardest to make Aaron see that he was completely unfazed by his rejection. Aaron rolled his eyes, it wasn't working. "You did enough crying for the both of us mate." Robert said chuckling to himself.

Aaron fought the urge to launch himself at his ex lover realising that he was only lashing out as usual, "What so you usually sit by yourself drinking your embarrassment away then?" Aaron spat back.

"Yep, a lot has changed since you told my sweet wife about our sexy little times..." Robert giggled, completely drunk, "This is me now." Robert continued waving his arms round wildly.

Aaron sighed loudly, a part of the guilt was beginning to surface again. He couldn't believe how broken and fragile Robert appeared, after the whole affair Aaron had always thought that Robert could bounce back so easily - yet now he looked completely damaged.

"You're pathetic." Aaron whispered, disgusted by Robert's behaviour, "You'd think your the only person who has had a tough time!"

"You're right." Robert said slowly causing Aaron to relax slightly, "At least I don't tear my skin to shreds every time something bad happens eh?"

Aaron felt his heart race wildly, he felt sick. This was the Robert he hated, despised with all his heart. The Robert who could sink so low and cause his heart to bleed with pain. Aaron breathed slowly as he suddenly turned away from Robert.

He knew his mum needed him but he couldn't put himself through this abuse, not tonight.

Robert instantly regretted his words, once again he had said things he didn't mean. Why? He couldn't exactly blame the drink in his hand or the disappointing day - this was who he was. This was 'typical Robert' rearing his ugly head once again. Robert suddenly pulled up from the steps and tried to catch up to Aaron who was now walking across the field - faster this time.

"Aaron wait!" Robert shouted, "Aaron please ... I'm ... I'm sorry!" Robert yelled running after Aaron until he couldn't breathe okay anymore.

Aaron continued to ignore him, fed up of the excuses and apologies.

Robert quickened his pace after catching his breath, "Aaron please just let me —" Robert said before suddenly hurtling towards the floor and bashing his head on the ground.

Aaron turned round suddenly and saw Robert flat out on the muddy grass. He wasn't speaking anymore and quickly Aaron feared he wasn't breathing.

"Rob!" Aaron shouted moving towards him and gazing into his eyes.

'What are you doing Aaron?' A voice whispered inside Aaron's mind. 'Why are you so scared, he doesn't mean anything'
Aaron shook his head violently ignoring the voice.

"Robert ... Robert." Aaron whispered, stroking his hair and finding a cut across the side of his face. It wasn't deep yet Aaron couldn't help but feel his breathing quicken out of fear. In that moment Aaron couldn't hide it anymore, he was falling back into Robert's arms when he didn't want to. Here he was comforting the monster who broke his heart so badly, why?

No because of some stupid plan to distract him but because he genuinely cared... Aaron hated himself for feeling this way. He needed to make it stop.

Suddenly Robert began to twitch and flicker open his eyes, as he opened them fully the sight of Aaron hovering over him sent butterflies through his body. It was clear to see the relief wash over Aaron's face and he couldn't help but paint a faint smile on his face.

"Whoops!" Robert whispered, leaning up and seeing that Aaron still hadn't stopped staring at him. Their faces were only inches apart now, and although the field was silent - a million thoughts were being shared in their small little moment.

Aaron ripped his eyes away first, realising what he was doing was wrong and not apart of the plan at all. He was supposed to distract Robert and make him think he was falling in love again, he wasn't meant to actually do it. It was all a game, only a game.

Robert blinked slowly as a ripple of disappointment ran through him suddenly. Aaron had looked so worried and caring one minute and then almost uninterested the next. How could he do it? Turn his feeling on and off, Robert lifted his head up again realising that Aaron obviously had a lot more self control.

Robert couldn't help but gaze at Aaron from across the room, or smile whenever someone mentioned his name - but Aaron was completely different. It was almost like he was allowing himself to fall slightly for Robert but then resist the feeling instantly.

Aaron pulled Robert to his feet slowly, "You alright?"

"Yeah I'm okay ... my heads a bit dizzy but —" Robert said before wobbling on his feet and practically falling onto Aaron.

Aaron suddenly held Robert up straight as he rested on his chest. Robert could hear Aaron's heart race and smiled brightly, it was beating fast and loud - Aaron was alive with excitement and adrenaline. Aaron bit his lip hard as he realised how close Robert was to him yet again, he knew how fast his heart was beating and wondered if Robert had heard it. Aaron sighed quietly quickly realising that it didn't matter too much, so what if Robert felt his heart race as they touched? That's what he wanted right? He wanted Robert to think he could have this effect on Aaron and so far is working.

Aaron pulled Robert up further, making sure he was steady enough to walk on his own, "Let's go back to the steps and see how bad your head is."

 

^*^

 

"It doesn't look that bad." Aaron muttered as he examined Robert's head after they had successfully managed to make their way back to the pavilion.

Robert squinted, the pain rushing through his head, "Well being drunk and hitting your head isn't really a good mix is it." Robert said playfully.

"Yeah..." Aaron said awkwardly.

"Serves me right though, after what I said." Robert sighed staring into Aaron's eyes. Aaron gazed down slowly, "For what it's worth, which is probably not that much..." Robert said as Aaron stared back at him again, "I'm sorry ... I didn't —"

Aaron fidgeted slightly the insult was still burning inside him, "Don't worry ... I'm used to it."

Robert dropped his head in shame, "You shouldn't be ... you don't deserve it."

Aaron nodded slowly, "A few months ago I probably would have done something stupid." Robert raised his head sharply, imaging exactly what Aaron was implying, "After hearing you say that ... but not now."

"That's good." Robert said dryly trying his hardest to say anything remotely sincere.

"And you know what ... you probably wouldn't have been noticed!" Aaron said letting his true feelings get in the way of his plan once again.

"That's not true." Robert whispered holding his head.

"Of course it is!"'

"You'll never know Aaron —"

"Know what?" Aaron snapped back unfazed by Robert's growing pain as he clutched at his head.

"How sorry I am!" Robert shouted back, pulling his hand away from his head and staring at Aaron, the pity and guilt growing in his eyes. "You'll never ... never know how much guilt I have ... because of how I treated you for so long." Robert said now beginning to let his emotions pour out.

Aaron stared back at Robert, the voice in his head telling him that he wasn't genuine.

'Don't fall for it again'

Aaron felt himself become overwhelmed with emotions, the whole idea of sticking to the plan had gone out the window. He had planned it all out, he would apologise for what happened in the pub, Robert would get over it and then he'd tell him about the secret investigator. Now everything had changed, things were getting deeper and Aaron didn't know what to do.

"You'll never know how badly you hurt me, you broke me Robert. Over and over again." Aaron sighed letting tears spill down his face.

Robert felt the urge to pull Aaron in closer and never let him go, he hated what he had done to him. Aaron was right, Robert had destroyed him.

"Aaron." Robert said slowly moving closer towards him, "I'm — I'm so sorry."

Aaron shook his head, "That won't ever be enough." Aaron whispered wiping the tears away.

Robert bit his lip and turned away for a few seconds, nor wanting Aaron to see the heartache grow inside him. "I know, that's why I don't blame you for what you said in the pub today. I understand."

Aaron suddenly remembered the plan and how he had to make sure Robert knew that he was only lying. How could he though? How could he lie when Robert was finally being as honest as he was.

"When I first met you were this sassy, proud, reserved grumpy bloke from the garage and I wanted to know you so badly. At first it was the chase ... the feeling of getting to know you more than anyone else. But then it changed, it got serious ... my feelings and I didn't know what to do. Everything I did Aaron ... I hate myself. I honestly do, but you have to know that — that I loved you. Maybe a bit too much, and I was scared and I.m pushed you away and...and I hurt you because I was afraid that if I had you, I wouldn't want you to ever go. I ruined you, I saw how damaged and broken you became all — because of me and I didn't stop chasing you. I didn't stop trying to win you back even though I knew I was this...this toxic thing in your life. I didn't care because I wanted you and that was all that I could think about. I pushed you and made you fight and fight back until you couldn't do it anymore...only then did I realise what I had actually done to you. Only then did I see what my love did ..."

Aaron felt the tears roll down his face once more and he became overwhelmed again. It was too much to take in, Robert was sorry. Truly sorry for everything, Aaron could see how tortured he looked and he knew.

"There's no point anymore Robert ... there's no point in hating yourself. It's over now ... it's done."

"I won't ever forgive myself Aaron, not ever."

Aaron nodded slowly, "Okay ... I can't stop you, but I can tell you to try and ... and move on."

"Move on? How?" Robert said shocked by Aaron's words and composure.

"Dunno ... try and forget even if you can't forgive — make sure you don't do the same things twice."

"I can't Aaron ..." Robert said slowly, letting go of Aaron's hand, "Not when I'm reminded of what I did to you everyday, not when I get ahead of myself and think you still love me whenever you stare at me a little too long." Robert sighed loudly, "Not when you're still in here." Robert said clinging to his chest and dropping his head.

Aaron bit his lip as he saw how much Robert sill loved him, it was almost unnerving, "Maybe I'll always be ... Jackson's." Aaron said suddenly. Robert raised his head, "And I still fell ... I fell in love again."

Robert nodded slowly, "How do you feel?"

Aaron felt his heart race as he realised that Robert was asking him the one question he didn't have an answer for. His feelings were apart of the plan at all, "Hurt. I'm still hurt Robert."

"You've been different these last few days ... I thought that —"

"What?" Aaron whispered realising that his plan had been working and that Robert did think Aaron still loved him.

"I thought that you might still ... have feelings ... for me." Robert whispered feeling ridiculously embarrassed.

Aaron blushed, "I dunno Robert ... I don't know what to think."

"I've just felt so confused ... that's why I was hurt today in the pub ... you ... I thought-"

"Well I wasn't leading you on or out!" Aaron snapped fearful that Robert had realised it was all fake.

"I didn't say you was. It's just...you've helped me these past few days. You know with Diane and everything."

Suddenly Aaron's mind jumped back to the plan, "Well don't worry about any of that ... I'm sure the police will catch who did it."

Robert scoffed, "Yeah right, good thing I've got that Joel on the case. Not that I'm any use or out, I've been way to distracted to give him anything concrete to go off."

Aaron leaned in closer, "About that. What exactly is he doing?"

"I hunt around a bit and tell him what I know and then he checks it out for me. His got people in the force who help him out."

Aaron nodded his head realising that the man could easily catch onto things of Robert gave him the right information.

Regardless of Aaron's conflicting feelings he needed to carry on distracting Robert as best he could. Even though he felt himself falling slightly for his ex lover once again it wouldn't change anything. In a few weeks time it would all be over and Aaron would be able to move once and for all - but could he really break Robert's heart after already experiencing the bitter taste of heartbreak?

A few more minutes passed and Robert realised that Aaron had suddenly changed pale and cold. "Hey what's wrong?"

"Nothing I ... I'm just a bit tired. C'mon lets get you home yeah." Aaron said before raising to his feet and holding out his hand for Robert to grip hold of.

Robert gripped hold of Aaron hand and raised to his feet slowly, "Thanks."

Aaron and Robert returned to the village a few minutes later, Aaron gripping hold of Robert shoulder as he steadied him, "Are ya gonna be okay?" Aaron said softly.

Robert stared at him confused by what he meant.

"Your head?" Aaron said quickly as they reached Robert's cottage.

"Er I think so yeah." Robert said biting his lip and staring into Aaron's eyes, slightly embarrassed by his concern.

"Right then." Aaron nodded before turning round and facing the pub.

"Aaron wait." Robert said deciding that he couldn't let Aaron leave just yet, "I ... I just wanted to say ... er thanks for...listen tonight. I don't know if it did any good but-"

"It did. Hearing what you had to say made things better." Aaron said before suddenly pushing his head towards the floor. All of sudden Aaron found it hard to understand if he was telling the truth or not. Did Robert's apologies and sincerity make things better for him? Did it help add some closure to all the pain he felt over the past year?

Aaron nodded his head before quickly murmuring a goodbye and practically speed walking towards the pub, leaving Robert by the gate of the small cottage.

Robert breathed a sigh of relief as he watched Aaron disappear into the night. Finally he was able to let out all the emotions that we're building inside him. A sense of hope filled his mind, hoping that the nights events had served as some sort of break through for the pair. Robert was finally able to voice his thoughts and Aaron was obviously finally ready to listen.

The sound of Robert's phone distributed him from his thoughts, "Hello?" Robert said bluntly after picking up the no caller ID number with suspicion.

"Sugden?" The deep voice stated.

"Yeah ... who's this?"

"Joel. I've got some stuff about the case you might be interested in."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Aaron awoke to the sound of his phone buzzing loudly the next day. It was Cain, pestering him about how everything went last night. Aaron rolled over in bed ignoring the loud sound until it died all together. He wasn't ready to tell him exactly what happened, he probably never would.

What was the point in telling his uncle that he had a heart to heart with the enemy? Instead Aaron decided to only tell him about what he learnt about this mysterious Joel who was somehow on the case. The feeling made Aaron's stomach churn noisily as he heaved himself out of bed.

"You're sure?" Robert whispered on the phone. It was Joel, and Robert had called him three times already to confirm what he said the next before. Robert had to be sure. Hearing the call last night, after the state hw was in came as a shock. There he was standing outside the dainty little cottage in the middle of the night, holding his head as he watched Aaron walk away after opening up about his true emotions when he got the call. When his sneaky little mystery private investigator made the call.

"Yes. Have you spoken to her yet?"

"No ... I tried the other day but ... but I got distracted." Robert said slowly realising that Aaron had gotten in the way of his plan.

"Well, you need to talk to her. Chas Dingle. She must know something." Joel snapped.

Robert shook his head slowly, he had thought about Chas' role in the whole ordeal. She had been quiet since the fatal night, yet that was only natural right?

According to the police report Chas had found her with Aaron. Yet now Joel was trying to imply she had bigger role.

Instantly Robert remembered the whispers in the village and what he had told Joel when they first started speaking, "Hang on a minute didn't I fell you about Chas having a stalker. A stalker who was doing stuff to the pub."

"Oh yeah how convenient, I mean she's a Dingle, I've heard a few stories about that lot. For all we know it could be a whole Dingle cover up."

Robert shook his head the plan sounded ridiculous, "I'll try talking to her again..."

"And her son. From what I hear, he isn't exactly an angel. Been inside for all sorts apparently...he doesn't come across too well. Might be worth taking a look."

Robert felt his blood boil, the thought of Aaron being judged by his colourful past wasn't something that Robert wanted to think about. Aaron could never do such a thing, after his own shooting he realised just how much of a good man Aaron really was. He was fragile and sensitive yet strong and brave.

He want capable of stabbing anyone.

"He wouldn't stab someone." Robert spat.

"I think I decide that." Joel spat back clearly insulted by Robert's blunt choice of words.

Robert gulped hard.

"Listen Robert he's known by the police, I need to look into it a bit more to know the convictions —“

Robert suddenly thought of Joel tracing through Aaron's folder and finding things out about him.

Private things. It felt wrong, this wasn't what Robert wanted at all. The thought of Joel finding out about Aaron's past: Coming out as gay and helping Jackson to die. Why should Joel be allowed to know anything about him. Then it hit him, Aaron's recent stint in prison: Robert's shooting.

If Joel had the right contacts he'd be sure to find out about Robert's ex lover being charged with his attempted murder. Then Aaron would suddenly have a motive to stab Diane: a reason to get back at Robert for nearly spending his life in prison, hurting someone he loved. Joel would surely push and push Robert to admit to the possibility of Aaron being the person behind the crime.

Robert shook his head once more, "No" Robert shouted down the phone, "No just uh leave the son to me, just focus on concrete evidence I give ya yeah?" Robert said nervously.

"Okay then ... whatever you say."

"I — I just don't wanna waste any time going through half the villagers track records yeah?" Robert laughed trying to ease the tension his persistence had created.

"Yep whatever I'll speak to you soon."

"Yeah. Soon." Robert said before quickly hanging up and charging out the door. He had to put his mind at rest, speaking to Chas was the only way.

"Oi." Cain shouted from across the street, seeing out a grumpy looking Aaron carrying a newspaper in his hand.

Aaron rolled his eyes and turned around to face his uncle, "What do ya want?"

"I've been tryna get ahold of ya all morning!" Cain shouted, following Aaron towards the garage.

"I've been busy." Aaron lied trying his hardest to avoid a conversation about Robert entirely.

"Well now you're here." Cain whispered, "Did you catch Sugden yesterday or not?"

Aaron dropped his head to the floor, remembering last nights conversation and feeling odd.

"Yeah." Hemurmured before loading more scrap onto his van.

"Well!" Cain said, agitated.

Aaron sighed heavily, "This Joel guy, Robert gives him information and he checks it out ... sees if there's anything behind it."

Cain nodded slowly, "How?"

"He's got people working for him in the force don't he!" Aaron said slamming more metal onto the van.

"Right." Cain said trying to think about what to do next. "How's our little distraction plan coming along?" Cain smiled.

Aaron rolled his eyes, "This isn't funny you know." Cain smiled even wider, "He thinks that ... you know I still love him."

"Bless him. Well keep it up yeah?" Cain said moving closer, "You watch out for him and I'll keep watch of your mum yeah." Cain said pointing at Aaron's chest.

Aaron nodded slowly, tensing as he thought about watching out for Robert.

Robert was making his way towards the pub when he saw Aaron and Cain having an intense looking chat at the garage. Cain was still pointing at Aaron's chest as Aaron nodded slowly gazed at the floor. It was as if Cain was telling him what to do and Aaron was abiding by his words.

Robert bit his lip, noticing how Cain seemed to be almost whispering information. The conversation he had with Joel moments before managed to enter his mind again:

'For all we know it could be a whole Dingle cover up'.

The words rang in Robert's ears loudly, causing him to shudder. The idea sent a million ideas racing through his mind. Was the reason behind Aaron's sudden interest and understanding coming to light? Was Cain putting him up to it? Robert dropped his gaze and walked towards the pub, deciding to not even entertain the thought for a moment longer.

"Hey is er Chas about?" Robert asked Zack who was serving at the bar in the pub.

"She's gone out for a bit ... she won't be too long."

"I'll have a pint then." Robert said softly. His mind was jammed full of information, making him feel sick and strange. The last thing he needed was to become even more confused but as luck wood have it - Aaron's walked through the pub doors, dripping with sweat and wearing a oil stained white vest top - exposing his muscles that the December weather didn't allow. Robert's mouth fell open as he watched his ex lover chat to Zack about the scrapyard.

He looked irresistible and almost instantly any thoughts about Aaron being this evil enemy responsible for stabbing Diane began to melt away.

Aaron couldn't help but smile as he could feel Robert's eyes fall onto his body. He hadn't even realised Robert was in the pub, but there was no harm in letting Robert have a look. Aaron couldn't resist the urge to walk over to Robert and charm him even more, after his talk with Cain he had become even more determined to distract Robert - ignoring his growing true feelings entirely.

"Hey you alright?" Aaron said quickly walking towards Robert.

"Yeah ... er," Robert said trying to avoid gazing at Aaron's lean torso, "I'm fine thanks."

"How's the head?" Aaron said pointing to the scar forming on Robert's head.

"Yeah it's ..." Robert said before trailing over the cut, "It's getting better."

"Right, that's good then." Aaron said trying his hardest to not make the atmosphere at all awkward.

Robert had noticed the almost awkward atmosphere and quickly decided to change the conversation, fearing that Aaron would leave - something he didn't want at all.

"So er ... what's going on?" Robert said staring at the grease covering Aaron's vest.

Aaron smiled innocently, "Uh I was loading some scrap onto the van." Aaron said teasing Robert with the thought.

"Oh yeah I saw ya." Robert said quickly before instantly dropping his head towards the floor. He didn't mean to say that, how stalkerish did that sound? And by the look on Aaron's face the words didn't go down too well either. Aaron started fidgeting on his feet as he wondered if Robert had seen the tense conversation between him and Cain.

"When?" Aaron asked nervously trying his hardest to figure out how much of the conversation Robert was privy to.

"Er like about ten minutes ago now." Robert said suspicious by Aaron's hostility, "Cain was there, seemed to be chucking his weight around as per." Robert murmured before suddenly realising that once again he had said too much. What was wrong with him? The last thing Robert wanted was for Aaron to feel uncomfortable in his presence yet as he saw Aaron begin to stammer on his words he knew that he had probably ruined the moment by brining up his uncle.

"He wasn't." Aaron snapped, "He's worried about mum and we were just talking. That's all." Aaron continued feeling as if he owed Robert a reasonable explanation for the tense scene at the garage earlier.

Robert went to reply, hoping to reassure Aaron that he didn't know to dwell on the conversation when suddenly Robert's phone started to flash and ring loudly.

Aaron couldn't help but stare down and realise that the same No Caller ID was flashing on Robert's phone. Almost instantly he thought about someone who probably wanted to be kept a secret from the village: Joel. Robert's mysterious private investigator.

"Don't mind me." Aaron said turning away and propping himself against the bar trying his hardest not to seem bothered by this Joel who had cut his conversation with Robert short.

Robert shot Aaron an apologetic look before cupping his phone in his hands and answering, "What?" Robert snapped.

"Calm down. Have you spoken to Chas Dingle yet?" Joel said quickly.

"No not yet...why?" Robert whispered staring down at the floor.

"The police will want a word with her soon."

Robert sat confused by Joel's words wondering why on earth he even hired him for the case, "What are you on about?"

"According to the reports, they haven't had a follow up interview yet."

"So..." Robert said slowly.

"So she might be hiding something...if you talk to her today find out how she feels about it all."

Robert sighed hard, "She's been in bits every since...oh and by the way I'm not paying you good money for you to just make assumptions!"

Robert heard Joel let out a huge sigh before shifting papers aside, "Listen I'm being paid to find out for you right? So let me. We need to rule out every possibility, so far it's either the business partner or her crazy son."

Robert felt the rage build inside him, "Until you give me concrete evidence you're just wasting both of our time." Robert snapped before handing up the phone and sighing deeply.

A few moments passed until Robert built up the courage to approach Aaron at the bar, passing past the villagers Robert placed his empty pint on the bar and smacked his lips together. Aaron stared at him noticing how subtle Robert was trying to be and giggling to himself.

"Sorry 'bout that." Robert murmured.

Aaron shook his head before staring at the floor, "None of my business mate."

"Yeah but —"

Just them Cain walked through the door, holding onto Chas who seemed to be in better spirits than before.

"Mum you alright?" Aaron asked Chas who was now walking round to the bar and taking away Robert's empty glass.

"Yeah love I'm ..." Chas said slowly before staring at Robert and sensing his eagerness to talk to her, "I'm good."

Aaron noticed the sudden tense atmosphere in the room and could feel Cain's eyes burn onto him, so quickly decided to make an escape as far as he could. He didn't want Cain around when he was trying to 'distract' Robert. Aaron moved quickly, pulling himself away from the bar and avoiding Robert's gaze that screamed out 'please don't leave yet'.

"Darling what's all the oil?" Chas said softly as she watched Aaron walk behind the bar.

"Er scraping innit." Aaron mumbled before walking into the back room.

Robert sat awkwardly on the stool, before gesturing for another pint and watching as Cain quickly rushed of after getting a message from Moira. The pub was quiet, quiet enough for Chas to not have any excuses about serving all the customers. Robert tapped at the bar nervously as he watched Chas busy herself with the bottles at the back.

The clogs in his brain were turning as he tried to calm his nerves, a part of him almost wanted it to be Chas who had caused the pain in his family. That way the sick feeling in his stomach of not knowing would be put to rest. Yet the thought of Joel being right made his head spin.

For some reason, Robert didn't seem to trust his judgement - maybe it was something to do with the fact that Joel was recommended by one of Robert's clients who was going through a bitter divorce and used Joel's services in order to spy on his wife. There was something odd about his persistence in trying to pin it on the Dingle's yet Robert hadn't really noticed yet...

"So ... the other day I didn't get the chance to you know ... talk to you." Robert said softly trying his hardest not to overwhelm Chas.

Chas gulped hard knowing that this time she couldn't escape Robert's burning questions, "Yeah ... yeah I remember."

"I'm trying to get to the bottom of it ... Diane she’s getting better but not one hundred percent yet." Robert said slowly.

"But she will right?" Chas said loudly, the thought of Diane never properly recovering made her sick with fear.

Robert stared into her eyes - the fear overwhelming her, "Yeah ... but that's not the point really."

"Course. You want to know who did it."

"Exactly." Robert said sipping his beer, "You found her right Diane?" Chas nodded slowly trying to keep her composure, "That must have been traumatic."

"Well it wasn't a walk in the park."

"And well was there anything suspicious?"

"Er no, not really." Chas said staring into space and remembering the dreadful night oh too well, "Just a lot, a lot of blood and - and-"

"And what?" Robert said leaning over the bar.

"Just Diane, she looked — I thought she was gonna die."

Robert gulped hard seeing how effected Chas was over the fatal night. How could she have done it?

"I'm sorry." Chas said slowly, wiping her tears away.

"Don't be, you're bound to be effected by it. First I get shot and then Diane gets stabbed." Robert said trying to reassure Chas.

Aaron had just finished showering and a new white top clung to his damp body as he walked back through to the living room. Suddenly he could hear Robert's voice, Aaron rolled his eyes annoyed that he was still at the bar. Then he heard his mum's. The thought of her spilling out the truth overwhelmed him as he listened in further to their conversation.

"So you rang the police..." Robert whispered.

Chas nodded slowly, "No that was —" Chas said before stopping herself and realising that she had passed the phone to Aaron as she ran off into the night too scared to admit to what she had done.

"Who?" Robert said as his heart started to beat faster.

"Aaron." Chas whispered.

Instantly Robert felt his heart sink, he hadn't known that Aaron was involved this way. As far as he was aware, Aaron had shown up much later and was the one who eventually found Chas and comforted her. Yet now, Chas was saying he was at the crime scene. One of the first people. How? How could Aaron have kept it from him?

"Well did he see anyone? Anything!" Robert shouted now, suddenly overwhelmed with dread and fear.

Aaron felt his heart race with fear, his mum had said too much yet again. Aaron raced through to the bar, he had to stop her from saying even more.

"You still here?" Aaron snapped in Robert's direction.

"I'm having a conversation actually." Robert hit back, angered by the lies Aaron had told him.

Chas ripped her eyes away and stared at Aaron who was able to tell her she had some something wrong with just an expression in his eyes. Chas bent her head before rushing out and changing a barrel.

"With my mum?" Aaron said bluntly.

"Yeah." Robert said noticing the anger building inside Aaron. Robert got up quickly and tried to avoid yet another argument with Aaron, not after yesterday.

Aaron followed Robert outside the pub and out to the car park. He had to make sure Robert knew he couldn't just interrogate his mum whenever he felt like it.

"Well don't alright, who do you think you are?!"

"I think I'm trying to find out who stabbed my step mum!"

"Wonder why that is eh? How many times have you actually gone to see her?" Aaron said angrily, ignoring every part of him that was screaming out for him to stick to his distraction plan.

Robert gulped he hated how Aaron was so able to get under his skin, "Plenty."

"Not as much as Vic or Andy though right?" Aaron said trying to hurt Robert as best he could.

"Because I've been trying to —"

"No because you've been avoiding her, because you can't handle it and you've been using this whole little Columbo act to cover it up!"

Robert felt his heart race wildly, "No! No that's not true!"

"Oh c'mon Robert! You love throwing your weight around! Your step mum's lying in a hospital bed and you can't handle how unfair it is — so you try and 'fix' everything by finding out who put her there!"

Robert couldn't believe how well Aaron knew him. It was scary.

"Just admit it!" Aaron said realising he had touched a nerve.

Robert gasped, "Me admit it, says the one who hid the fact that he rang the ambulance for Diane!" Robert shouted back, closing the space between them and breathing in quickly.

Aaron bent his head, he knew that it would be hard to keep Robert interested now. Now that he had insulted him about his little detective work and Robert had realised that Aaron hadn't told him about his involvement in the night.

"How — why didn't you just say?" Robert whispered, truly hurt by Aaron's betrayal. "You ... you said you only found out after you found your mum."

Aaron went to speak, to apologise and try to win Robert back round yet his words were cut short by the arrival of Victoria and Andy.

"Sorry er Rob, we're heading down to the hospital now. You coming?" Victoria said slowly trying not to interrupt the conversation already taking place between Robert and Aaron.

Robert nodded his head slowly still staring at Aaron.

"Well, will just — just wait in the car then." Victoria whispered before turning away with Andy.

Robert fidgeted on his feet, the hurt in his eyes was starting to make Aaron feel ridiculously guilty once more. Robert gave Aaron one final look before turning on his feet and staring at Victoria and Andy who were now waiting for him in the car.

Aaron couldn't let Robert leave without giving him an explanation, the thought of Robert telling Joel about what he had heard made him feel sick. He knew how Robert could be, Aaron sighed as he imagined Robert coming up with all sorts of horrible scenarios and being terribly wrong.

"Robert wait!" Aaron said softly.

Robert sighed slowly before walking up and heading towards Andy and Victoria by the car. He couldn't help but feel overwhelmed with sadness and regret. Yesterday he thought he had really made some sort of progress with Aaron, he had opened up and been able to apologise.

Robert trusted Aaron completely. Yet now, now he found himself questioning Aaron's actions on the night Diane was stabbed. He felt sick as the thought of Joel being right all along crammed his mind with fear. Aaron felt his heart sink as he the guilt continued to overwhelm his thoughts, he needed to put things right. He had to act as the concerned ex lover, sorry for what they had done.

That way Robert would be able to see how much Aaron really 'cared' about him - right?

 

Chapter Text

Robert bursted through the hospital doors, with Victoria and Andy by his side. Robert sighed as he shook his head and waited for the nurses to direct them to Diane's room. He felt sick as he realised that he couldn't even remember what room his step mum was in, his mind was elsewhere as usual.

Half an hour rolled by and although Robert was politely nodding his head and laughing at small jokes Victoria would say - his mind was still on Aaron. He felt sick as he tried to figure out why exactly Aaron would have lied about ringing the ambulance for Diane? Was it because he didn't want Robert to think he had anything to do with it? Robert sighed as he imagined the possibilities, Aaron accidentally harming Diane panicking and then ringing for help, or Aaron seeing the attacker and covering up for them. Robert wanted nothing more than to forget about it, but the bitter taste of betrayal was still there, eating away at her.

"Isn't that right Rob." Victoria said noticing how troubled Robert looked and trying to make him apart of the conversation. Robert raised his head and instantly Victoria saw the pity and fear in his eyes.

"Er yeah ... yeah." Robert murmured slowly trying his hardest to seem interested.

"Um does anyone want a coffee or something?" Victoria said quickly, rummaging in her jacket for loose change.

"Yeah I'll have one thanks." Andy said, passing Victoria more change.

Victoria bit her lip as before staring back at Robert who seemed to be in a world of his own. Something was troubling him and she wondered what exactly it was.

"Oi Rob help us will ya." Victoria said quickly as Robert raised his head and started walking towards the door.

"What's going on?" Victoria whispered as she made her way to the coffee machine.

"What do you mean?" Robert whispered back, irritated that his sister had realised he wasn't in the greatest of moods.

"I mean why do you seem so, I don't know ... troubled."

Robert scoffed, "What the —"

"Don't try and fob me off okay, I know you and I know when you're hiding something." Victoria said softly before pressing the button on the machine and holding the small cup filling with steaming coffee. "I'm just gonna give this to Andy and then you can tell me what's wrong"

Robert gulped as he watched his sister walk through the hospital doors and back out again swiftly. Victoria sighed as she gestured Robert to the small sofa a few feet away, "What's happened?"

Robert tried his hardest to hold it together, "Vic ... nothing okay."

"I saw you earlier when me and Andy came and got you." Robert began to fidget on the seat as his mind was forced to remember what Aaron had said, "You were with Aaron." Victoria said biting her lip and trying her hardest to find out the truth, "Did you two have a fight or something?"

Robert sighed hard finally giving in and staring at his sister with a sad expression on his face, "We — yeah we did."

"About what?" Victoria said softly.

Robert blinked hard, "Nothing, nothing important." Robert said deciding that Victoria didn't need to know exactly why they were arguing.

"I thought, I thought you two were staying out of each others way."

"Yeah we were." Robert said staring at the floor and then back at Victoria who was visibly concerned for him. "It doesn't matter."

Victoria rolled her eyes, "Of course it does if you're this upset about it."

Robert sighed hard, "I'm not! I mean I — I don't know."

"I didn't know, I didn't think he still meant so much to you."

Robert shut his eyes, no one had actually said it aloud yet but now Victoria had and she was right, he still meant everything and he couldn't help it, "Neither did I." Robert said slowly, for so long he had told himself that what he felt was a mixture of guilt and lust. Even as he opened up about his feelings last night, he still wanted to tell himself that all he wanted was Aaron's forgiveness yet now he realised he wanted his respect and he hated the seeds of doubt that were growing.

"Well, I thought that you know —“

"What that he hated me? Yep, he does." Robert snapped.

"Well you know what they say fine line between love and hate and all that!"

"That's just it. One minute his asking how I am and the next his arguing with me on the street!"

Victoria sighed, "He's probably just confused."

Robert scoffed before placing his head in his hands, "He's confused!" He said sarcastically.

"What do you want Rob? What do you really expect from him?"

Robert blinked hard, trying to grasp exactly what the question meant.

What did he want? The question was complex, complex enough to make him feel slightly dizzy with confusion.

"I don't know." Robert said dryly, "I though I — I just wanted us to be civil around each other. But then he — I saw how caring he was again, he cared about Diane and me and- and I just wanted to go back to that place that place where we were-"

"Together." Victoria said interjecting, "But Rob were you really — you know together. It was an affair Rob."

Robert raised his head, insulted by how blunt Victoria made his and Aaron's time together, "It was more than that! I loved him Vic."

"And now?"

"I — "

"Do you trust him?" Victoria asked softly.

Robert felt his heart race, of course he trusted Aaron. Yet the niggling feeling in his head was telling him otherwise, Aaron had lied to him about something he knew Robert wanted to know all about. He couldn't shake the feeling inside. The more Robert thought about it the more Robert began to question Aaron's trust in him.

There must have been a reason why Aaron felt like he couldn't tell Robert, maybe he thought he would react like this. Jumping to conclusions and feeling betrayed. Robert shook his head before realising how much trust bAaron had in him. Yesterday Robert had confessed to all his guilt and sins yet Aaron hadn't really done the same, he had been guarded and instantly Robert knew that he may not ever trust him again.

"I think the question is how much does he trust me." Robert replied softly, fidgeting with his feet.

Victoria stroked her brother's back trying her best to soothe the pain away as she realised that the pain in his expression wasn't fading. Suddenly Andy came out of Diane's room quickly telling them that he had to go and pick up Jack and Sarah. Robert nodded before raising to his feet and rubbing his eyes, "I should be going too."

"Okay I'll come with ya." Victoria said picking up her bag.

"No! No Vic I — I think it's best if..."

"You want to be left alone." Victoria said before biting her lip.

Robert nodded and slowly raised his hand into Diane's window, mouthing a goodbye and walking towards the exit.

Robert sighed as moved towards the lift and waited for it to open and bring him down to the exit level of the hospital. Suddenly the lift chimed and Robert stared up at the lift only containing one person. Their cheeks were puffy and red as if they had been running for miles and miles. Their hands were shaking and their breathes uneven.

"Aaron? What are you doing here?" Robert whispered as Aaron let out a sigh of relief.

Robert saw the doors shutting slowly and couldn't bare to loose sight of Aaron so quickly walked into the small space.

"Andy — Andy said you were still here." Aaron panted. He couldn't believe he had ran all the way to the lifts from the other side of the hospital after spotting Andy. He couldn't believe what he was doing chasing after Robert after everything he had done to him. But it was all apart of the plan, he wasn't really chasing Robert - right?

"And?" Robert said trying hard not to press against Aaron's body and try to steady his breathing.

"I wanted to apologise." Aaron said bitterly trying to compose himself, he felt sick as he actually apologised to the man who he hated.

Robert raised his head and instantly felt a wave of guilt race over him, "Is that right?"

Aaron bit his lip before turning away, "Er yeah I should have told you it was me who rang the ambulance for Diane."

Robert nodded his head slowly, "Yeah you should have."

"Well I'm sorry so..." Aaron sighed staring into Robert's eyes.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Robert said irritated.

Aaron bent his head towards the floor, how could he tell Robert the truth? He couldn't exactly tell him that the reason was because he knew that he would easily link him to the crime and it would probably be game over.

Aaron rolled his eyes, realising that he had to lie once again, "I — I didn't know how you'd react I suppose."

Robert shut his eyes slowly, "I thought that."

Aaron sighed lightly relieved that Robert seemed to believe him, "Really?" Aaron cried.

The sound of the lift chiming broke off the special quietness as Robert and Aaron both walked out and made their way towards the car park.

"Hey you fancy a lift back?" Aaron said eagerly wanting to find out more about this Joel who Robert would probably tell all this information to.

Robert hesitated slightly before nodding his head, "Yeah ... if you don't mind."

Aaron smiled warmly before gesturing for Robert to get in the car and starting the engine.

 

Chapter Text

Five minutes into the journey, Aaron realised that the amount of small talk and pleasantries were all used up. There was only so much talk of the scrap yard and cars Aaron could take and although Robert appeared to like the light talk Aaron had had enough.

The sound of Robert's phone vibrating cut talk of investigating in a new truck to a halt as Robert stared down at his phone and rolled his eyes: No caller ID. Joel again.

"Aren't you popular today." Aaron said rolling his eyes and trying hard or to sound at all bothered by the person who seemed to continuously call Robert's phone.

"Aren't you gonna answer it!" Aaron said a few seconds later as Robert still stared down af his phone wondering whether or not to pick it up. He was sure of who it was, Joel would want to know if he found out anything from Chas. Of course he had but Robert couldn't help but feel a slight sense of betrayal as he thought about telling Joel about Aaron ringing the ambulance.

Surely he would want to investigate been further into the life of the grumpy scrapper.

"Er no, it can wait." Robert mumbled before putting his phone back into his pocket.

"Okay then ... it's just the same number as before wasn't it?" Aaron said before instantly biting his lip as he realised he had probably said too much.

Robert shot Aaron a frustrated look. He had known, he had seen his phone before in the pub and now he was aware that whoever Robert was avoiding was obviously someone important.

"Er yeah yeah." Robert said dryly before realising that Aaron had the right to know who he might be telling about the whole ambulance call, "It was the investigator. Joel."

Aaron gulped hard, "Joel. Right."

"He probably wants to know if I've found out anything."

Aaron sighed slowly, "Like who rang the ambulance."

Robert tensed slightly hearing the sadness in Aaron's voice, "Yeah I reckon."

Aaron nodded his head slowly,
"Well I should have just said before —"

"You didn't, I mean it's not...that bad is it"

Aaron scoffed, "It is when you've got a track record of perverting the course of justice mate."

Robert nodded slowly trying to grasp the severity of his actions if he did tell Joel the truth, "Before, when it first...after Diane. I remember everyone saying how it could have been Chas' stalker."

"Like anyone ... there wasn't even any concrete evidence was there just my mum pointing the finger."

Robert stared at Aaron confused,
"That wasn't what you were saying earlier."

Aaron shifted slightly, "Yeah well sometimes you've just gotta face facts haven't ya. It might not have been the person who was after me mum."

Robert nodded his head again, "Yeah...you're right."

A few more minutes rolled by and Aaron pulled into a service station, "Want anything? I'm starving." Aaron asked.

"No I'm fine thanks." Robert said quickly before watching Aaron turn away and pulling out his phone again.

"Hello, Joel? ... it's Robert."

"Have you spoken to her yet?"

Robert watched Aaron from the car window, innocently tracing his heads across the snacks laid out in front of him. Robert smiled as he realised that he couldn't tell Joel about anything. Not yet anyway.

"Yeah, she doesn't remember a lot. Just that Diane was conscious and there was signs of a break in."

"Right. And the son, Aaron. What does he know?" Joel said hastily.

"Not much to be honest." Robert said dryly. "I'll carry on asking questions though."

Aaron began walking out of the shop and towards the car causing Robert to say a quick goodbye to Joel and placing his phone in his pocket again.

Aaron walked around the car and placed the small bag on Robert's lap before shutting the car door, "What's all this?" Robert said smiling.

"I got you a sandwich and a chocolate bar, you look like you've seen a ghost!"

"Thanks." Robert said staring at Aaron wildly.

"Welcome." Aaron whispered back, before gulping hard, "Look Rob, lying to ya about ringing the ambulance for Diane —"

"Don't worry about it."

"I didn't think you'd be so hurt."

"I was just ... I was always the liar wasn't I!" Robert said trying to add humour to the conversation.

"Andy ...mhe said you hardly said a word in the hospital." Aaron said slowly.

"I was — I dunno everything just got to me I guess." Robert said softly.

Aaron bent his head as some anger built up inside him, once again Robert was feeling sorry for himself. Aaron felt the urge to kick Robert out the car and vent to someone about just how much hurt and pressure he was truly under. But what good would that do? After lying to him, Aaron had to earn Robert's trust and so decided to bite his lip and let Robert continue.

"Go on." Aaron said slowly as he watched Robert struggle to speak.

"I don't know ... after last night." Aaron dropped his head remembering how sincere Robert had sounded, "I thought that we all I ever wanted was for us to be okay with each other and I thought that was what happened last night. But then today it was like a switch just flicked and you ... you got all defensive."

"Yeah because my mum's had to answer enough questions already!" Aaron snapped before blinking hard and gesturing for Robert to forget his words.

"And then I saw Diane and it just all clicked. What you said, it made sense. I had been avoiding her because I was scared of how bad she'd be. I — I don't know what to really do Aaron." Robert said softly.

"Hey it's okay." Aaron said placing his sandwich on his lap and grabbing ahold of Robert's shoulder tightly.

Robert stared up at Aaron, grateful for his support even though he knew he didn't deserve it at all. Robert sighed slowly before pushing Aaron's hand off and giving into the guilt he felt about Aaron feeling sorry for him, knowing it should have been the other way round,
"No Aaron please...don't be nice to me" Robert whispered staring into Aaron's eyes.

Aaron felt a numbing feeling grow inside him, he hated having to act this caring and sincere around Robert when really he was dealing with his own problems. The fact that Robert was so easily pushing him away was making things even easier for Aaron to walk away from it all. It was almost too easy for Aaron to abort the entire distraction plan and finally try and move on.

Aaron bit his lip as he edged towards Robert, trying to close the gap between them. Aaron wanted nothing more than to start the car and race back to the village. But he couldn't. He told himself it was because of the plan, but there was a part of him that still felt the need to comfort his ex lover. The feeling made him feel sick, he was love sick, caught up on Robert Sugden once again.

"Trust me." Aaron whispered now placing his hand in Robert's, "Everything is gonna be fine."

Robert felt a wave of electricity surge through his body as the connection between the boys reignited the passion and lust damaged by their distance.

Robert closed his eyes and moved in closer, he didn't really know what he was doing. On one hand the thought of kissing Aaron meant everything but then on the other hand he knew the damage their passion could cause. Robert knew how confused and lost he easily became whenever he crashed his lips against Aaron's.

Yet how could resist?

Aaron felt his heart racing as Robert continued to lean in closer,
"Rob" he said before gazing at his ex lover.

The two lovers found the themselves inches away from the other, their breathing began to almost synchronise as Aaron realised that he couldn't do it. He couldn't kiss Robert, not now. Plan or no plan, he couldn't risk kissing Robert and enjoying it in the slightest, it was too risky.

Yet remembering the taste of Robert couldn't help but tempt Aaron in further as he rested his head on Robert's. Suddenly Aaron's phone began to ring loudly, destroying the tender moment and forcing Robert to move away from Aaron quickly and cough awkwardly trying to fill the tense atmosphere.

"Er you should ... get it." Robert said softly staring out the window and trying to control his growing blush.

Aaron stared down at the phone and saw that it was Cain ringing him. Rolling his eyes and sighing hard Aaron shoved the phone in his pocket and stared at Robert,
"Cain. Probably wants me to cover shift or summat."

Robert fidgeted slightly, "Better get you back then yeah?" Robert said softly looking at Aaron and realising that the moment had passed and probably for good reason.

Aaron shut his eyes before nodding his head slowly and pressing down on the brakes. A sense of frustration overwhelmed him as he backed out of the service station and heading back towards the village, of course he was relieved that he and Robert hadn't kissed - he knew all too well what Robert's kisses could lead to.

Yet in a way it could have brought them closer, making Robert feel more comfortable in his presence and allowing more information about the investigation to pass Robert's lips.

Aaron pulled up outside the pub slowly, checking out for Paddy or Chas who would both probably have a heart attack if they saw Robert sitting comfortably in Aaron's car.

"Coasts clear don't worry." Robert whispered playfully before unbuckling his seat belt.

Aaron blushed embarrassed by how obvious he had probably been, "Sorry it's just —"

Robert raised his hands up quickly,
"Hey, I don't blame ya...or them."

Aaron nodded, "Yeah well uh ...” He said awkwardly trying to say goodbye to Robert who was now staring at him wildly.

"Thanks" Robert said softly.

"It was only a lift back —"

"No I mean listen and you know ..." Robert said before trailing off and realising that he was becoming mesmerised in Aaron's eyes and would probably start saying things he shouldn't, feelings he still felt that would make Aaron run for the hills. "The sandwich was great?" Robert giggled before giving Aaron one final look and stepping out the car quickly.

Aaron nodded in Robert's direction, watching as he walked in front of the car. Suddenly the vibration of Robert's phone cut his gazing to a halt. Instantly a message flagged up brightly:

News about that Aaron you might be interested in. Give us a call when you've got the chance.

Aaron bit down on his lip, perplexed by the message entirely. Instantly Aaron remembered Robert's private little investigator Joel. The message had to be from him surely. Aaron's heart raced as he wondered if Robert had told him to look at Aaron as a suspect, the feeling of betrayal and hurt travelled through his body yet it didn't stay long.
How could Aaron feel hard done by as he sat inside his car after nearly kissing his ex all for a stupid plan to keep his mum safe. He was a hypocrite really. He knew he was but it didn't stop the pain growing in his chest.

Aaron re read the message three times, before tracing down further and noticing the name at the bottom.

Joel Price

Suddenly alarm bells began to ring in Aaron's head, the name rang a bell and a strong one at that.

 

 

Chapter Text

Robert patted his jacket down before stopping suddenly and realising that he had left his phone behind. Rolling his eyes and moving back towards Aaron's car, Robert frowned his face as he saw Aaron sitting quietly in the car.

He was completely still, almost staring into space. Robert bit his lip as he wondered if Aaron was still as caught up in their near kiss as he was.

Robert tapped at the window lightly causing Aaron to jump and roll it down,
"You alright there?" Robert said playfully bending his head down.

"Yeah uh miles away."

"Yeah I can tell." Robert said before blinking slowly, “Uh my phone ... I think I left it in here."

Aaron shook his head slowly as if he was trying to shake out the niggling feeling at the back of his mind. Joel Price.

"Er here it is." Aaron said after eventually fishing the phone off the car floor and passing it to Robert.

"Thanks." Robert said softly, before nodding his head and heading off again. Robert could help but shake the feeling inside him, he couldn't help but dwell on the almost vacant look on Aaron's face as he approached his car.

It could have been about the near kiss? But it wouldn't have weighed so heavy on Aaron's mind stillsurely?

Robert stared down at his phone, a black screen staring back. Instantly he began to think about what the issue could have been, what if Aaron had actually seen the phone and saw something he shouldn't have. Robert swiped at the screen and instantly saw a message unread, Robert gulped hard before reading it:

News about that Aaron you might be interested in. Give us a call when you've got the chance.

Robert sighed, more news. Suddenly he realised that it was all becoming a slight burden to him, trying his hardest to discover the truth was turning into a total nightmare - one he couldn't escape. More theories, more questions, more news from a man he hadn't even met before. All of a sudden Robert sighed hard as he imagined Aaron reading the text and feeling sick with pain and betrayal. Robert shook his head swiftly, Aaron couldn't have seen the message, his phone was on the floor - out of sight.
Robert sighed, anger building inside him as he envisioned this Joel riffling through old folders of Aaron and trying to find anything that linked him to the crime. Robert breathed in slowly realising that he was getting carried away, at the end of the day this man was only doing his job right?

"Hello?" Robert snapped finally building up the courage to ring Joel.

"Oh Robert you free?" Joel said hastily.

"Er yeah I am later." Robert said slowly.

"Later? Okay I call you then —"

Robert sighed softly before deciding to take the plunge and found out exactly who Joel was. 

"Maybe we could actually meet. I don't even know the guy who's helping me uncover the truth eh?" He said trying his best to sound care free and pleasant.

Joel hesitated on the phone, "Er I ... I —"

"I mean you don't have to but I'd like to see some concrete stuff if you have any—"

"Fine. Yeah let's say 'The Oakwood' at six?"

Robert bit his lip hard was he really agreeing to meet a total stranger for drinks at a local restaurant to discuss whether or not his ex lover was a psychotic maniac capable of stabbing his step mum and leaving her for dead?

"Yeah great." Robert said quickly before he could change his mind. Robert sighed hard as he ended the call and tried to catch his breathe.

Aaron rubbed his head slowly trying his hardest to stop the throbbing, the name swirled round and round in his mind causing him to feel sick. Shaking his head hard Aaron ran out of the car and raced up to his room.

Joel Price.

Aaron marched to the computer in his room and sat down slowly, breathing quickly as he started to search the name up on the web. Three minutes later and Aaron had found nothing accept for dodgy Facebook pictures and a headline for a robbery criminal from twenty years ago. It felt pointless as Aaron tapped away at his knew still trying to search through the countless images and websites.

Then he saw it. He could hardly miss it. And everything came back. How could he have forgotten?

Local school boy found guilty of assault and homophobic abuse.

Aaron shuddered as the memories came hurtling back messily in his mind. Joel Price was in the year above Aaron at their secondary school, he was tall and Aaron remembered his short dark brown hair and piercing green eyes. He was a bully to say the least, always after something he didn't have and constantly finding faults in everyone at their school.
It was when Joel realised that Aaron was different to the other boys he hanged around with was when things got bad. Joel Price knew all about Aaron's suppressed sexuality as he 'stared at the boys like he wanted to snog them' something Aaron had been trying to control. Joel Price made Aaron's life a secret hell for a whole year until it all stopped. Until Joel took things to another level in an all too public place. Aaron trembled as he remembered standing at the train station when he suddenly felt a large force strike his back. The shouts and cries from Joel as well as the public made Aaron cry out in fear.

The abuse Joel continued to shout was horrific abuse, calling Aaron vile and disgusting for being gay. Something Aaron himself hadn't ever really addressed yet. The events that took place after the attack were what made Aaron clench his fists as he tried to calm himself down. Joel's mother found out about the attack and, so disgusted in her child, rang the police herself. Aaron remembered a wave of relief wash over him as he pictured Joel getting locked up for his violence. Yet it didn't work out as great as it sounded in his head, Joel had an uncle in the police and very quickly all reports were hushed down and the school were only told that there has been an incident which had been 'dealt with properly'. Joel should have got six months in a youth offenders but with the help of his trusty uncle who seemed to agree with his homophobic views, Joel only served two months before moving to Leeds. Aaron never told his dad, he didn't even notice his son limping home covered in blood or the talks Aaron was having on the phone to the police. He didn't know and he didn't care.

Aaron shook his head as he remembered the heaps of abuse and disgust Joel had for him. Pure hatred because of his sexuality, something he couldn't change. He had tried to forget about it all when he moved in with his mum and he had until now. Until now as he found himself reliving the entire ordeal. He hadn't forgotten, but he had been able to think about it from time to time without acting out or feeling pity for himself.

Aaron shuddered slowly remembering that this Joel was now working with Robert on the investigation. He still hated Robert yes, but he couldn't stand by and let Joel get closer to Robert.

What if he knew about him and Robert's affair?

What if he was waiting for evidence to crop up so he could let Aaron go down for the crime? Payback for his time in the youth offenders all those years ago.

What if the attack had damned every job he looked for and now he was bitter and angry, wanting nothing more than sweet revenge?

Aaron's breathing intensified further, the thought of Robert or himself in danger was making him feel sick. Aaron tried to breathe slower and control his panic, he was getting ahead of himself right? This Joel was probably a well respected family man by now with a nice house and a decent job, no longer the homophobic thug he hurt Aaron so badly.

But why would he ask about Aaron? He must have remembered him and was more than happen to find out what happened to him.

Maybe it was guilt?

Maybe Joel accepted the investigation so he could find out how Aaron had turned out and try to get him off the hook for any evidence that linked him to the stabbing. Aaron rolled his eyes, some people didn't change and the more Aaron thought about his bully Joel the more he realised he couldn't have changed, someone so strong in their horrific beliefs could ever change their ways. Not really. Aaron gulped hard before dashing out the door, intent on telling Robert who exactly he was dealing with.

The cold breeze hit Aaron hard as he slammed the door shut and began walking towards Robert's cottage wondering if he was there.

"Oi!"

The sound of his uncle's voice sent him into a spin as he quickened his pace.

"Aaron!" Cain snapped louder this time and causing Aaron to stop dead in his tracks and turn round.

"Yeah?" Aaron said, the irrational in his voice causing Cain to move in closer.

"I rang ya earlier ... no reply:"

"I was busy."

"Busy." Cain said bluntly, "Doing what?"

"I was with Robert."

Cain nodded swiftly, "Oh right...I get ya." He winked making Aaron squirm.

"Well someone had to sort it all out —"

"What do ya mean?" Cain asked.

"Mum told him that I rang the ambulance didn't she!"

"Why did she do that?"

Aaron shrugged his shoulders, "Dunno, he was asking her questions and she just told him."

Cain placed his head in his hands lazily before staring back at his nephew,
"Well did ya sort it?"

Aaron nodded slowly, "Sorta, he was angry about me lying. I thought he'd stop trusting me or something but I managed to get him back on side."

Cain nodded his head proudly.

"But there's something else."

"What now?" Cain said before sighing.

"This Joel. We've got history —"

Cain gave Aaron a confused look,
"What do ya mean history?"

Aaron bite his lip contemplating whether or not to tell his uncle about Joel,
"Nothing important."

"You didn't break his heart did ya?" Cain said playfully poking Aaron in the stomach.

Aaron rolled his eyes: 'no but he nearly broke my back.'

"So I take it, bad history."

"Yeah enough to make the bloke pounce on the chance on getting me back inside."

"Right then!" Cain sighed hard, “Want me to break his legs?"

Aaron let out a small chuckle, "Not yet." Cain smiled, "I've just gotta make Robert see how unreliable and dangerous he is, make him realise that he can't trust him."

"That way the whole thing can stop. Hell realise he can't trust some dodgy guy and he'll drop the whole Columbo act."

Aaron nodded, "Yeah...then it will all be over." He said smiling brightly and staring at Cain.

"Listen I've gotta go but I'll catch up with ya later." Cain said before turning round and walking towards the garage.

Suddenly Aaron saw Robert walk towards the pub and sit on the bench outside awkwardly. His long legs stretched out messily causing Aaron to smile as he remembered the countless times there length used to get in the way when they were getting frisky in bed. Aaron hesitated before walking over to Robert, he was wearing different clothes than before. A dark blue shirt and a green coat that Aaron remembered. Where was he going all dressed up? Aaron thought to himself. He didn't exactly have many mates round here unless Victoria had dragged him out with her and Adam, but then Adam would have told him surely?

"Where you going?" Aaron said smirking in Robert's "fancy date?" Aaron darted his head towards the floor, he didn't mean to say that. It just sorta slipped out and now Robert was blushing terribly. Aaron raised his head and suddenly the suggestion didn't seem like any sort of joke at all.

"Er sorry I ... it was a —" Aaron said feeling the need to explain his comment as Robert shifted uncomfortably. It didn't matter anyway, he needed to talk to him about Joel before he headed off out anywhere.

"I'm meeting someone." Robert said after finally plucking up the courage to tell Aaron where he was going.

Aaron bit his lip before staring Robert and trying to contain his anger. What if Robert had actually met someone knew, surely then he wouldn't want Aaron giving him all these subtle clues and reminding him of the past. The plan would fail and his mind would go straight back to helping solve who stabbed Diane.

Robert blinked fast, confused by the obvious emotion in Aaron's eyes. Why did he care?

"That's ... that's good, hope you have fun." Aaron lied trying to keep a smile on his face whilst cursing the man who stood in front of him.

"It shouldn't be that fun." Robert laughed causing confusion to build in Aaron's eyes, “It's just Joel."

Aaron felt his heart race wildly, "Joel as in —"

"The investigator. Yeah him." Robert said before noticing all the blood drain from Aaron's face as he become pale and panicked.

"Hey you alright?" Robert said putting a hand on Aaron's shoulder and causing him to snap out of his little daydream.

"Er yeah, no I mean — Robert don't go!" Aaron said quickly watching as Robert seemed to grow more and more confused by his words.

Just then a taxi turned into the village causing Robert to look at it and wave his hand out wildly.

"Aaron I have to go." Robert said staring at his watch.

"Just ... just think about it okay. How well do you actually know this bloke!" Aaron snapped.

"Well enough okay don't worry." Robert said softly trying to calm Aaron down.

"Well okay how well does he know you?" Aaron said loudly, if he knew Robert was bisexual or into guys at all it wouldn't go down too well.

"He knows what he should know." Robert said bluntly walking towards the taxi.

Aaron caught up to him and pulled Robert back, "What does that supposed to mean?" Aaron said his breathing getting heavier.

Robert blinked slowly, not knowing what to do. Aaron seemed almost scared about him going off and meeting this Joel but why? Why did Aaron even care? Then it dawned on him, Aaron knew that Joel might tell himself else about his own involvement in the crime. Something that would make him look guilty.

Robert ripped his eyes away from Aaron.

"Rob ... Robert I'm just saying you've never even met this bloke before! He could be a nutter!"

"Or he could be the answer to all my problems!" Robert shouted back, causing Aaron to sigh heavily as he watched Robert get into the taxi. "Just ... stay out of this alright!" Robert snapped shutting the car door and gesturing for the driver to go.

Aaron felt his heart race as he watched Robert drive away in the taxi, into the night where he'd meet the homophobic bully. This was more than just about the plan going wrong or him finding out things he shouldn't, this was about Robert's safety. He was genuinely scared, Aaron rolled his eyes and kicked the wall as he realised he was once again in too deep.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Robert blinked hard as he pulled up to the restaurant, the car journey there had been a confusing one once again. Robert had time to think long and hard about what Aaron was trying to tell him. He recalled the desperation in his voice and the sudden change in body language as he mentioned Joel's name. It was odd, Aaron seemed almost frightened by it.

Robert shook his head, maybe Aaron was right? He had never met this man before and now here he was about to share drinks with him. After the day's events his mind was in the right place in all honesty, every time he closed his eyes he remembered the closeness between himself and Aaron a matter of hours ago. He couldn't help but feel a tingle race down his body, the feelings all rushing back.

Robert's thoughts were put on hold as he heard the sound of the engine slow down and the driver tell him the doors were unlocked. Robert slammed the car door shut and gave the driver his money, suddenly feeling a lump grow in his throat as he approached the small restaurant. Robert bit his lip as he walked inside and noticed how intimate it looked, somewhere he would have wanted to take Aaron. Robert rolled his eyes angry that the thought had even entered his head.

Just then a young waitress askded for Robert's name before guiding him to to a small table in the far right of the restaurant. Robert suddenly met Joel's eyes. They were green, a piercing green that made Robert feel uncomfortably inferior all of a sudden. Joel nodded his head slowly before gesturing for Robert to sit opposite him. Robert obliged smiling weakly and trying hard not to pay attention to Joel's obvious smirk. The notes and folders on the table caught Robert's eyes as he tensed and instantly saw Aaron's name at the front of one. He felt his stomach churn as he realised the amount of papers hidden inside the small neat folder labelled with his ex lovers name.

"You alright?" Joel asked, noticing Robert's growing pale complexion.

"Me?" Robert said nervously, "Yeah I'm fine." He continued deciding to rip his eyes away from the folders.

Joel nodded his head quickly before picking up the folders and digging out a small piece of paper, "I thought we should just get straight into the evidence."

Robert blinked hard nor ready for the damning evidence against Aaron, he was too sober for the news.

"I'm just gonna get a beer from the bar." Robert said raising to his feet and picking up his phone and wallet, “Want one?"

Joel shook his head slowly before rolling his eyes and growing irritated by Robert's reluctance.

Robert was finally allowed to breathe as he walked to the opposite end of the restaurant and ordered a beer, deciding to wait for it there rather than asking the bartender to bring it over to their table. Robert tapped his fingers against the bar when he suddenly felt a vibration in his jacket pocket and fished out his phone.

Robert gulped hard as he realised Aaron had already tried to ring him three times, he was still trying to stop even after Robert had practically told him to get lost and leave him alone. Hesitating slightly, Robert hovered over the accept button before deciding to put Aaron out of his misery and just hear what he had to say,
"What?" Robert sighed.

Aaron was pacing up and down in his bedroom when Robert finally answered his phone, "Finally!" He  said, his voice shaky and making Robert feel even more worried. "Are you at the restaurant yet?"

"Yes." Robert snapped, "Why are you ringing me?"

"Because you shouldn't be there." Aaron said before biting his lip hard and trying his hardest to convince Robert to leave.  "Jst come back and I'll explain:"

Robert tried to block out the desperation in Aaron's voice, not wanting to fall back into his arms again when there was a possibility that this Joel had all the answers pointing to him.

"Aaron ... just leave me alone!" Robert snapped causing Aaron to sigh loudly.

"Please Robert, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't have a reason to —"

"Yeah okay, well you can tell me later alright? Robert said biting his lip before hanging up the phone and receiving his beer.

"Sorry about that." Robert said once he returned to his table, "Barman was talking my ear off."

Joel chuckled, "Really?"

"Yeah I know all about his sister's beauty salon in Leeds." Robert said sipping his beer and laughing nervously.

Soon the boys found themselves in a somewhat uncomfortable silence as Robert tried to turn his attention away from Aaron.

"Anyways." Joel said, picking up some of the files after a few more minutes filled with coughs and small sighs.

"How long have ya done this?" Robert asked trying to steer away from the subject of Aaron.

Joel raised his head awkwardly, "Since I was about eighteen."

Robert raised his eyebrows and leaned back further on his chair, "Wow so how old are you now?"

Robert instantly regretted asking the question as he saw Joel almost blush,
"Sorry I was —"

"Twenty five" Joel said quickly.

Robert played with his beer bottle, he looked older than his twenty five years. His forehead was painted with frown lines and his hair looked messily unkept. Although Robert always thought Aaron seemed more mature and experienced than his twenty four years, which was a fair point considering the amount he had been through in his short life. His youth was still apparent regardless of his stubble and tired looking eyes, there was still a small twinkle in them from time to time which reminded Robert of his youthfulness. His small smile lines and gelled hair seemed to almost symbolise Aaron's young years. Robert smiled softly the more and more he thought about it, causing him to stare down at his beer bottle.

"So you went straight into it did you?" Robert said changing the subject matter slightly.

Joel nodded avoiding Robert's gaze,
"Yeah ... kinda had to really."

"School not really your thing?"

Joel fidgeted, "Nah ... bit of a trouble maker me/"

Robert opened his eyes a tad wider interested in what Joel meant, "What did ya get up to?"

Joel began to smirk, "Hmm I could tell ya" Joel edged a little closer, "But then I'd have to kill ya!"

"Hmmm... sounds interesting. No where as bad as the stuff I did though I reckon."

Joel relaxed into his seat like Robert, "Oh really?"

Robert nodded, "Yep I wasn't the best child."

"Neither was I." Joel said, "And it didn't help when people didn't make it any easier for me."

Robert blinked softly, "Like who?"

Joel fidgeted again, "Little kids at school, kids younger than me that didn't know there place really." He said starting to become more angry.

"Right." Robert said, too much alcohol in his body to notice the growing anger in Joel's eyes.

"This one kid, he needed to be a taught a lesson really." Robert frowned "he thought he was all good at hiding who he was but I knew. I knew exactly what he was." Robert nodded absentmindedly “Queer little pansy." Joel whispered under his breathe causing Robert to blink hard too drunk to register what exactly Joel had said.

Joel saw Robert trace his hands over the beer bottle and rolling his neck around loosely. Robert had heard but he hadn't registered it all yet. Not properly anyway.

"Is that why you started doing this undercover work then?" Robert said softly.

"What because of the kid?"

"Yeah, you wanted to make sure people paid for what they did."

Joel shrugged his shoulders, "My uncle was in the police and he wanted me to have some involvement I guess so I started doing this private investigating thing with him, it was easy when you had connections to the force."

Robert nodded again.

"Like this." Joel said waving the files up and down again.

"So c'mon then what have you got?" Robert said gulping hard and deciding to see what Joel had found.

"Didn't take me long to realise who were the possible suspects as I said before. The Dingle's are notorious for their life behind bars, got a ..." Joel peered down to the folder, "Charity Dingle inside at the moment."

"Yeah but what does that prove?"

"It proves that the likelihood of them being behind it is high"

"High? Joel I need certain!" Robert snapped.

Joel nodded, "I know that, you just need to trust me on this one."

"I've spoken to Chas." Robert suddenly become slightly more sober as he realised that he couldn't tell Joel about Aaron. "She said she can't remember a lot"

"Well then, wouldn't you remember if you found your best mate with a stab wound!"

"Maybe she's tryna block it out, Aaron said-"

"Aaron?"

Robert gulped - he didn't mean to say his name. Joel's eyes started to light up,
"Aaron as in her son? Have you spoken to him?"

"Er yes and no." Robert said biting his lip.

Joel picked up Aaron's folder and traced his fingers over the label at the front,
"What do you mean?"

"He just — he was just saying that he his mum has been through enough and —"

"Whatever." Joel spat, "It's all a cover up I swear!"

"You swear? How can you be certain?"

"Just trust me. Aaron Livesy is trouble."

Robert moved back slightly, "Trouble? How ... how do you know?"

Joel fidgeted slightly, "The files, how many times his been arrested."

"Doesn't make him trouble." Robert said sounding a tad too defensive.

"I've seen this too many times Robert, someone like him never changes."

Robert lifted his eyebrows and stared at Joel, "Never changes, what do you mean?" Robert said disregarding the confusion in his voice and asking even more questions.

"He told the court he was a pansy just to get off." Joel spat angrily.

"That's — that was ages ago and it wasn't a lie"

Joel shrugged his shoulders and pulled a face, "Right."

"Listen I ... know how it looks, but he's —"

"Not that bad." Joel snapped.

Robert nodded his head slowly, "Yes!"

"How well do you know him, really?" Joel asked questioning Robert.

Robert looked up as he remembered Aaron's words a few hours ago. The question was spinning round and round in his mind as Robert stared at the man sitting opposite him. What was he doing?

 

Chapter Text

The sound of Robert's phone buzzing broke off their conversation abruptly, Aaron had text him this time trying his hardest not to irritate Robert completely,

Sorry for earlier, hope you're okay.

The text was sweet and to the point causing Robert to smile softly at it. The message was just like Aaron, short and direct and somehow it had managed to melt away the anger or suspicion Robert had previously felt.

"Missus want you home?" Joel asked.

"Er you could say that." Robert said before biting his lip and realising that the text meant nothing of the sort. "Sorry er no it's not like that."

Joel frowned, "Single?"

"Afraid so yeah." Robert said glumly.

"Hey it's not that bad!"

"It is when you used to be married." Robert said bluntly playing with his beer bottle again.

"Right, er what happened?"

Robert raised his head.

"Sorry it's just —" it was Joel's turn to apologise for being too personal.

"I was cheating on her, having an affair."

"Woah." Joel said resting back on his chair.

"Yeah..."

"When did it start?"

"Er two months before our wedding." Robert said shaking his head in shame.

"Ouch!"

"Yeah ... yeah I know."

"Why did ya do it? Did you not love her?"

"Of course I did! I mean I must have, I wanted to marry her. I just didn't want to give up on what I had with —"

"The other woman." Joel said quickly causing Robert to sit up straight realising he had nearly spilt the beans about Aaron.

"Yep. I didn't think that I would really fall for them."

"But you did."

"Hook line and flipping sinker mate. I fell in love and I hated myself for it."

"Why?"

"Because I was hurting both of them. I was destroying their life's just...because I was too much of a coward to pick."

"Did ya?" Robert sighed, "Did ya pick?"

"No. The er other woman she...she told the wife, and everything came out so..."

Joel nodded slowly, "I take it she left ya then."

"Yeah,I mean I put up a fight. Thinking back now, I don't even know why. Our marriage was over the minute I kissed someone else."

"True." Joel said, "What about the other woman? What happened to her?"

"She hates me. I mean at least I think she does."

"How do you feel about her?"

"I ... I loved her...I just didn't show it enough I guess and now there's...there's no point in tryna do anything to get her back is there?"

Joel shrugged his shoulders, "It depends I suppose."

"On?"

"How she actually feels about you." Joel said sitting up.

"What about you?" Robert said changing the subject.

"Nah nothing as exciting as a secret affair mate..."

"Really? Not a lot of conquests."

"Yeah just a few."

"Girls?" Robert said quickly, swaying slightly almost drunk.

Joel sat back in disgust, "What else?!" He  asked Robert snapping slightly.

Robert frowned his face and blinked slowly, "Er guys."

Joel rolled his eyes and tensed slightly,
"Are you tapped?" He snapped at Robert.

"Hey it's not meant to be an insult." Robert said slowly too tipsy, "What's the issue?"

"You! Thinking I'm some sort of fairy!"

Robert sat wide eyed as he watched Joel try to calm down.

"Well I'm not gonna apologise."

Joel sat still for a moment, breathing in and out quickly and avoiding Robert's stare, “You're right, yeah sorry."

Robert nodded before staring down at his phone and looking at the text Aaron has sent before all of a sudden the need to see Aaron began to overwhelm him. He wanted to leave.

"Listen I best be getting off." Robert said picking up his jacket and staring at his watch.

Joel nodded slowly realising that his little outburst had managed to put a dampener on the whole evening,
"Yeah well I'll be in touch." He said awkwardly patting Robert's shoulder and moving towards the door of the restaurant, suddenly disappearing into the night.

Robert blinked slowly as he made his way out into the cold night and phoned for a taxi that somehow managed to arrive within minutes.

The night air was making Robert cling tightly to his thin jacket as he fumbled to get his keys from his pocket. The entire day had been a complete head fuck. First Robert had found out that Aaron indeed have some involvement in Diane's stabbing that night, then he had a fight with him, shared a car home with him and nearly kissed him during the journey and then just as he was settled his suspicion just had to get the better of him didn't it. He had to meet with him and stare all confused at poor Aaron who seemed weirdly distressed by it all.
Then to top it all of, Robert going himself warming to the bloke and then he sees him go completely mad over a small comment. It was weird, the whole day. Robert sighed as he flopped back on his bed and kicked off his shoes, the drunk sensation flowing through him was subsiding slightly as he remembered Aaron's worry. Robert fished out his phone and quickly text him, before smiling as he stared down at the message:

I'm home and safe.

It was an Aaron type text and he wasn't sure if he would fully appreciate it. The message was one he thought he'd send to Chrissie during their marriage, a cute little 'I'm home and safe' text - that was never the case. They never really texted each other. They were usually too busy or honestly not that bothered, Chrissie had her business and her twisted son to look after and well Robert had Aaron.

Robert closed his eyes softly, lying back and trying to forget the distractions of the day. Soon he was falling asleep, clutching the phone in his left hand and forgetting to press send.

 

Chapter Text

Aaron tapped impatiently on the kitchen surfaces, the kettle was taking an age to boil and Aaron was using the wait to excuse his foul mood. One again he had spent another lonely night thinking about Robert Sugden. Aaron rolled his eyes as he remembered the thoughts that circled through his mind the night before.

'What if Joel did something?'

'Robert might be lying dead in a ditch?'

'Why hasn't he text me back?'

He remembered the worry he felt as he tried to shut his eyes and forget about it all. He wanted so desperately to forget about the deal he had with Cain, distracting Robert to the point where he was feeling sick with guilt and the dread he felt as he recalled Robert driving away in the taxi.

He had barely slept. Every so often he had edged towards his phone and studied his empty inbox, the darkness of his room allowing the bright light of the phone to fill the room entirely. Aaron's eyes stung every time he looked down and desperately hoped to see a message from his ex lover. Anything would have been fine, the smallest little 'I'm home' could have easily put his mind at rest.

It was exhausting, the worry he felt for a man he did indeed hate but couldn't help but need all at same time. The thought of Joel asking too many questions and Robert being too drunk to notice the growing hatred and tense atmosphere in the room made him sick with worry. He had seen Robert drunk before, he would usually blurt out the truth. He could have easily divulged in his dirty little gay love affair with the local grease monkey mechanic.

It was definitely a conversation starter or an ice breaker. Aaron shook his head as he imagined Joel laughing at his expense, mocking and judging him once again - Aaron rolled his eyes, irritated that after all these years Joel was able to still get under his skin so badly.

It was pathetic, he was pathetic.

The sound of the kettle finally boiling dragged Aaron away from the negative thoughts as he tried to tell himself that it was Robert Sugden he was talking about. The man who's strength and force knocked someone through floorboards (he knew they weren't sturdy but still!) and who easily intimated people all the time. As Aaron placed a tea bag in his cup he couldn't help but chuckle to himself slightly. Heck, Robert had even tried to stand against Cain!

"You alright love?" Chas said softly coming into the living room.

"Yeah, yeah I'm fine." He said smiling faintly.

"You looked flipping tired!" Chas said examining Aaron's eyes and noticing how deflated he appeared.

Aaron backed away from his mum abruptly, "I said I'm fine."

"I saw ya last night or should I say this morning, staring at your phone like some mad man." Aaron flinched, "Waiting on a call eh?" Chas said before winking and giggling.

Aaron rolled his eyes, "I couldn't sleep." Hemumbled.

"Someone keeping ya up?" Chas said playfully.

Aaron fought the urge to say yes. His mother was right, someone was keeping him up all night but it wasn't for the reasons she thought. Far from it. Aaron tutted signalling the fact that he was done with the entire conversation.

Chas grinned comically before jumping slightly as she heads Aaron slam the fridge shut.

"We're out of milk." Aaron shouted.

"Don't worry love I'll go and get some from David's in a minute." Chas said flicking through a magazine.

Aaron rolled his eyes impatiently, the thought of fresh air was inviting considering he had spent the night cooped up in his room.

"No, I'll go." Aaron said picking up a few coins on counter and heading out the door.

***

Aaron was right, the cool air was good for him. It somehow had managed to ease the tension in his head and make him feel more relaxed.

"Just this please." Aaron said placing the milk on the counter and handing over a few coins.

"Cheers." David said softly before looking towards the entrance, "Ouch rough night was it?" He laughed.

Aaron frowned slightly before turning around and looking at Robert who was now darting his eyes towards he floor sheepishly. His hair was all out of place and his complexion was pale, he looked like he was having the hangover from hell.

Aaron moved his head towards the floor not allowing anyone to see the relief building in his face as he saw that Robert was okay. Instantly a mountain of worry and guilt began to fall down and crumble around him, the small glance was snog in to satisfy Aaron in the knowledge that nothing too bad had happened the night before, somehow Robert had made his way home unscathed and safe.

"Yeah you could say that." Robert whispered before moving into the shopping.

Robert felt Aaron's whole body tense as he edged towards the fridges and browsed at the juices inside.

Why was he acting this way?

Robert secretly hoped that Aaron would be pleasantly surprised by his little text last night. Yet Aaron seemed to be almost irritated by it all.

"Hey." Robert whispered as he watches Aaron walk towards the door without giving him a second look.

Aaron turned round sharply staring into Robert eyes and seeing his confusion which only fuelled the anger he felt,
"Do one yeah."

Robert frowned before following Aaron out into the village, "What? Why ya acting like this?" He said pulling Aaron back tightly.

"Exactly." Aaron said angrily moving away from Robert, "Why should I care?"

Robert sighed, "Is this about last night?"

Aaron dropped his head towards the ground and instantly Robert knew what the problem was, "Aaron I —"

"Hade a good time then."

Robert squinted growing slightly irritated by Aaron's bluntness, "Yeah I did actually." Aaron raised his head, "Joel he was alright .... from what I can remember anyway"

"You were drunk?" Aaron scoffed, "So it was more pleasure than business."

"I —" Robert noticed the passion in Aaron's voice and instantly knew that he had to think fast.

"And you don't remember a lot." Aaron started to breathe heavier the realisation that Robert was a silly honest drunk was hitting him hard. He could have said anything that may have upset Joel in the slightest.

"Well-" Robert said struggling to answer Aaron's questions.

"You didn't seem drunk when I practically begged ya not to go." Aaron titled his head towards the floor avoiding Robert's gaze, "I told ya to come back and I'd explain but no —"

"Well what was it then?" Robert snapped back. "You said you'd tell me as if it was urgent." Robert turned away for a second, as he wondered if it was because Aaron wanted to confess to something.

Aaron sighed battling with himself, he needed to tell Robert the truth to save him from the bully but he couldn't find the words. It sounded pathetic in his head 'he used to bully me Robert don't go near him please!'

"I ..." Aaron said slowly.

"What is your problem?" Robert said shouting slightly as he grew more frustrated, before instantly regretting his volume as he held onto his head. "One minute you're given me daggers across a room and telling me to do one and the next you're all concerned about me going out —"

"Shut up!" Aaron said frustrated by Robert who was speaking perfect sense. Aaron hated feeling like this, so not in control of his feelings.

"This isn't about that. What you think I'm jealous or summat?" Aaron snapped angrily.

Robert filled the space between them,
"You tell me." He said with a hint of flirtation laced in his words.

Aaron allowed himself to stare into Robert eyes for a little too long so Robert was allowed to feel smug about how he had gotten under Aaron's skin slightly before pushing him away roughly with his hands.

"Get lost!" Aaron sighed.

"Then why do you care!"

"I don't! I..." Aaron looked towards the floor and Robert quickly realised that the silence meant 'I still care about you'. Aaron raised his head and smirk to himself, knowing that although he truly didn't know what to say, his silence had managed to make his 'affection' seem more genuine and believable - only adding more to the entire plan.

"I remember talking about school amd relationships —" Robert said softly, trying to shift the conversation.

Aaron's eyes widened as he felt his heart sink, "What?"

Robert sighed staring at Aaron who was now placing his hands in his thighs and looking towards the ground.

"You what — what did ya say?" He whispered, thoughts racing through his mind. He couldn't face the thought of Joel using their affair to his advantage. Some sort of excuse to beat the crap out of his client.

"Just about being married and, having an affair —"

Aaron raised his head allowing Robert to see the flush in his cheeks, "Did ya —" He said trying to control himself and failing miserably as the pain rushed over him once more.

"No I didn't mention you. I just said I said I had an affair that turned into something more. "

Aaron breathed slowly as relief washed over him rolled his eyes, "Oh how romantic." He couldn't help but be sarcastic.

Robert blinked softly, "You know he was actually understanding to be honest." He said shifting slightly, offending by Aaron's sarcasm.

Aaron nodded his head, "I take it you said it was with a woman then." The thought of Joel knowing Robert liked men too seemed to make him feel sick inside.

Robert nodded slowly, "He assumed. I was just too drunk to correct him —" He said before trailing off and yawning.

"Sure you were. Like you were to drunk to reply to my text." Robert frowned, "God you're so selfish it's unbelievable!" Aaron continued, letting his anger flow out messily Robert had no time to talk back as he felt Aaron move in closer to him, "Just a little text to tell me you were okay, I mean you saw the state I was in when you left!"

Aaron pushed to catch his breath, "Doesn't take a genius to realise I kinda wasn't really happy about you swanning of, to work out that I was worried about you. But no, you couldn't even give me that. Instead you let me worry about ya all night and think something had..." Aaron cut himself off realising he didn't want to say anymore.

This wasn't apart of the plan at all. He breathed in heavily imagining Cain seeing him argue with Robert and being furious with him. At the end of the say he had one job and that was to keep Robert distracted from playing sleuth. Yet here he was allowing his emotions to get in the way of it all. Aaron gaze Robert one final look before marching off once again.

Robert stared at the ground overcome with guilt, he hadn't expected Aaron to... to care so deeply about him anymore. He hadn't admitted to it just yet but it was clear to see that Aaron still harboured something for him. Why else would he be so worked up and persistent with his calls and messages. Robert bit down on his lip before suddenly remembering the message he typed the night before, he recalled the ludicrous struggle to find Aaron's name in his contacts and almost cringed at the thought of nearly sending the message to Andy or Adam.

"What? I ... I did — last night before I went to sleep I send you a text saying I was safe and —" Robert said trying to catch up to Aaron.

Aaron chuckled to himself, "Yeah right." as if Robert would send him a night time 'home and safe' message. That was the sort of thing old married couples used to do and they had never been anything like that.

"Seriously Aaron I remember writing it, maybe I —“

"Was too drunk to send it." Aaron was angry but he couldn't hid the smirk growing on his face as he turned away once again. The thought of a drunk messy confused Robert trying his hardest to reassure Aaron in the early hours of the morning seemed to make him smile. But he hated himself for it.

Robert bit his lip.

"Forget it Robert." Aaron send before heading towards the pub. A few weeks ago, even seeing Robert would have put him on edge and now he was walking away from a rather lengthy conversation with him. It felt odd. He hated him, what he'd done but after that night at the cricket pavilion, the fear he felt when Robert had hit his head and the way his heart felt when Robert opened up about his mistakes had managed to heal him slightly.

Slowly he was beginning to feel whole again and that was down to Robert. The whole thing was becoming much more than just a plan to help his mum, all of a sudden Aaron felt the need to protect Robert and keep him safe regardless of how badly his ex lover had treated him in the past. It was the painful truth and although he knew that the hate would probably never really subside...his heart was thawing and he couldn't stop it.

Robert sighed hard. He couldn't work out whether the entire five minutes he had just shared with Aaron had been either a heated conversation or a full out argument. It was hard to tell these days, Aaron always seemed on edge around him ready to tell him something somewhat important yet pulling back again as if he was afraid. Aaron had managed to make his heart flutter and his head ache at the same time. It was a pretty normal occurrence now and Robert couldn't help but crave it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

An hour had passed and the raw anger Aaron had felt towards Robert had now subsided, he was beginning to realise that maybe Joel wasn't as bad as he thought anymore. Aaron shook his head as he kicked his feet up on the back room table in the pub, it had been years. Years since that sick twisted teenager managed to hurt Aaron so badly, time had passed and maybe he had grown up.

"You just dossing around here all day then." Adam said quickly entering the room and kicking at Aaron's feet.

"No I'm working later."

"So you got time for a quick pint then, Robert's doing my head in at home." Adam sighed loudly, "God why can't he just move out?"

Aaron nodded his head and soon Adam and him were enjoying a pint in the corner of the pub.

Adam was rolling his eyes again as he stared down at the his phone,
"Urgh great." He sighed, tutting loudly. "Got to get Robert some flaming pain killers for his hangover." Aaron went to speak but Adam cut him off again. "Apparently he's too busy sitting in front of my tv!"

"I saw him earlier, he was coming out of David's —"

"Really?" Adam asked staring at his phone. "Probably gone straight back to the sofa to nurse his poor head."

Aaron bit down on his lip succumbing to the urge to ask about what state Robert was in last night. He couldn't help it.

"Had a late one did he?"

Adam shifted slightly, "Er yeah...he got in pretty late."

Aaron nodded slightly sipping on his pint slowly, "Yep really drunk I bet."

"Yeah..." Adam rolled his eyes, "Made a right racket tossing his shoes all over the place." Adam picked up his pint, "Sloppy git."

Adam and Aaron quickly got round to chatting about the scrap yard and their plans to expand the business further. Aaron smiled as he sipped away at his pint, he had missed having these pointless chats with his best mate - in the best way possible. It allowed him to actually take his mind off distracting Robert with his 'affection', worrying about what his mum would say next and fretting about Joel Price and his creepy self. For the first time in a long time Aaron felt completely relaxed.

"Sorry for banging on about Sugden mate." Adam said sipping at his pint.

"Don't be." Aaron said smiling, "He is your brother in law after all.” He continued before slapping Adam's knee playfully.

Adam squirmed before laughing loudly,
"Urgh don't remind me!"

"Trust me, I know a fair bit about him." Aaron said before staring at the floor and rolling his eyes as he thought back to all those annoying little qualities that Robert had. Qualities that he used to find himself laughing at, the way Robert would tilt his head to one side whenever he poured himself a drink or the way he would always feel the need to know what time it was. Aaron had to stop himself from smiling as he looked back at Adam and decided he should probably change the topic.

Robert sighed hard as he walked towards the kitchen and leant against the fridge as he watched Victoria walk towards him.

"Head hurting?" Victoria said smiling brightly.

"Just a bit, dosen't really help when you have an ear full from Aaron." Robert said softly, placing a hand on his head.

"Oh grow up Robert!" Victoria said walking towards him and shoving him against the sink, "You really like feeling sorry for yourself don't ya?"

"Hey!" Robert said lazily moving away from the sink and sitting on the chair, "That hurt!"

"Good I've already got Adam out getting your lazy arse pain killers, interrupted his precious pint with Aaron."

Robert raised his head, "Aaron? Is he in the pub?" He said suddenly wary of venturing out and getting some free petty lunch from Diane.

"Why avoiding him are we?" Victoria sighed.

"No!" Robert said acting slightly too defensive. Victoria was right actually, he didn't want another argument and the thought of him dampening a quiet drink with between Aaron and Adam and then getting blamed for ruining another part of Aaron's day made him feel even more against the idea.

"Whatever ..." Victoria picked up her keys, "I'm going into town, be nice to Adam if he gets back before me yeah?" Robert sighed before hearing the front door slam loudly.

***

Half an hour passed and Robert had managed to move himself from the kitchen table to the living room sofa. He wasn't in the mood at all, the conversation he had with Aaron earlier had managed to make him feel low and now he had realised that he was enjoying a pint with Adam in the pub just made him feel even more miserable than before. It always felt as if they took one step forward and two steps backs and Robert couldn't handle it anymore. He craved Aaron like mad yet at the same time he could never allow himself to give into his feelings properly. Not with the fear of rejection so obvious. Not when Aaron was clearly as frightened and confused about his feelings as he was. He couldn't let himself have all this hope and then see it get chucked aside when Aaron once again realised that he deserved better.

Settling into some day time tv the sound Robert's phone vibrating alerted him. Robert sighed as hauled himself across the room and stared down at his phone, the hope of a text from Aaron raced through his body and Robert couldn't hide his disappointment as he realised it was only from Joel. He had three unread messages from him.

Robert slid his fingers up and down the side of his phone as he thought about why Joel would have messaged him so many times. Robert frowned slightly his hardest to remember what happened the night before. He remembered meeting Joel and talking about school and how he got into the job, then something about kids at school needing to be punished. Robert blinked slowly it went hazy after that and the next thing he could remember was Robert talking about Chrissie and his saucy affair.

Then he remembered a slightly awkward and sudden goodbye, jumping into a taxi, kicking his shoes off and then texting Aaron that messaged that made him think too much about his ex lover.

Robert sighed quickly and opened the messages one by one. The first one was oddly long and made Robert blink a few times before reading it, trying his best to adjust his eyes to the bright screen.

Hope you got home all right, sorry about the way the night ended. — 9:43

Robert squinted slightly as he re read the message and tried to realise what Joel meant. He remembered Joel move swiftly out of the restaurant and make his way towards the exit leaving Robert to call a taxi for himself, yet the reason behind it was still unclear. His shady, drunk memory wasn't doing him any favours. Robert moved down the page and decided to open up the next message hoping it gave him a clearer answer.

Hope you're okay, haven't had from you? Last night didn't involve that much talk about the case, sure I didn't help, so tell me when you're free to talk. — 11:24

Robert sighed slowly as he stared down at the text, what did Joel mean? Robert knew that not a lot talk about the case actually happened but it wasn't all Joel's fault. If anything he was the one asking all the questions trying to avoid Joel's evidence. So what was he talking about? Did Joel say something that cut the night to a short end?

Robert clicked on the last message and stared down at his phone.

Robert? Hope things are good. Sorry about last night, hope you don't think I'm a complete tosser. Need you to sign some things if that's alright? — 12:09

Robert bit down on his lip and studied the text. Something he did was obviously uncalled for or bellow the belt which caused the evening to draw to a close. But what? Robert nodded his head unsure of what to do, right now he had to be sure what exactly Joel had meant and until then he couldn't reply. Robert tried his hardest to remember, yet there were still parts not adding up or completely missing all together.

Robert patted his head only increasing the dull ache and causing him to lie back down lazily. Sighing slowly Robert looked towards the window and tried to find the answers he needed. Robert ripped his eyes away in frustration after trying his hardest.

That night Robert lay awake in his bed still trying with all his might to remember the parts that were just too hazy. Then something hit him, something that he suddenly remembered - talking about Aaron. Joel and him had somehow started talking about Aaron's history and how he was 'troubled'. It was hazy but he remembered it. It was sick and nasty and downright homophobic. 'Queer little pansy' it made Robert's stomach churn horribly.

Then it didn't take him too long to recall Joel's words and then the anger in his voice. He was angry about something Robert had said about relationships, and then he had said something uncalled for. He had referred to gay people as 'fairies' and Robert hadn't known how to properly react.

Robert frowned as he lay down uncomfortable about what he had remembered. It made sense now why Joel felt the need to apologise and why he quickly rushed off the night before. Robert closed his eyes and drifted off slowly, the pain in his head was subsiding yet he still felt odd as he realised that his special investigator wasn't exactly gay friendly and that could be a problem.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Robert Sugden come down!" Victoria shouted up the stairs the next morning. Robert sighed, he had hardly slept last night with the thought of Joel spinning round and round in his head. Robert raised to his feet and stared at the clock in the corner of the room. It was nearly twelve and Robert still hadn't replied to any of Joel's messages.

"Robert!" Victoria shouted once more, "Listen I'm going out but some bloke is here for ya."

Robert felt his heart race. For a small second, the sleepiness took over Robert as he launched himself out of bed and imagined Aaron waiting for him downstairs. The thought of a man waiting for him, someone Victoria didn't even know put him on edge.

"Who is it?" Robert whispered pulling on a top and jeans and talking to his little sister.

Victoria sighed softly, "I don't know!"

Robert stared at her wide eyed, "What and you just let him in?"

"He said he knew you through some business or other." Victoria said staring at her phone, "I'm going alright, his waiting downstairs for you."

Robert gulped hard as he fixed his hair slightly and walked down the stairs slowly. He felt sick as he realised who it could be. He wouldn't though, would he? He wouldn't turn up in the village just to speak to Robert? Robert sighed as he approached the living room and saw the young man sitting down on the sofa fiddling with his hair like Robert had been doing, only a few minutes ago.

"Joel?" Robert said as he timidly stepped through the door. He didn't want to see him just now, he had nothing to really say to him just yet. He was confused and angry about the comments he had said about gay people so publicly and with so much ease, it made his head pound as he remembered it all.

"Hiya" He said quickly.

***

"Oh just the person I wanted." Victoria said quickly walking up to Aaron who suddenly turned in the opposite direction. He didn't really want a conversation with Victoria right now.

"Oi Aaron!" Victoria said once more moving at a quicker pace and reaching out to stop Aaron.

"Not now Vic." Aaron murmured.

"I just want a quick word!" Victoria sighed.

"If this is about Adam coming home drunk last night, that's nothing to do with me!" Aaron said making Victoria chuckle.

"No it's about Robert actually." Victoria said biting her lip and trying to ease Aaron's obvious anger.

Aaron felt his cheeks become red and hot, he didn't want anyone to know about his plan and it looked like Robert had told his sister about the mixed messages he was receiving.

"What about him?" Aaron sighed avoiding her glare.

"As far as I knew you two were dead in the water —"

"Well we are!" Aaron said angrily.

"Then Robert said you must have done something to make him feel like there was any chance —"

Aaron rolled his eyes. Robert had definitely talked to Victoria.

"Chance?" Aaron said quickly standing still and trying to hold his glare, "Vic just because I haven't been giving him a hard time recently doesn't mean —"

Victoria raised her hands up quickly,
"Hey I'm just saying —"

"Well don't Vic alright?" Aaron said before walking off.

Victoria rolled her eyes and ran up to him once more, "All I'm saying is maybe set him straight yeah? The other day he was a mess, he said you had an argument or something-"

"So you want me to carry on being horrible to the bloke is that it? Because the minute I'm civil to him. I'm leading him on or something."

"I didn't say that!" Victoria sighed slowly.

"Whatever Vic." Aaron said rolling his eyes.

Aaron bit his lip as he looked at Victoria and saw that she was only trying to stick up for her brother. He didn't mind it at all, yet he knew that soon Victoria would tell Adam and Adam would have something even worse to say about it. The whole situation was getting to him as he tried his hardest to keep cool. He soon realised that Victoria was probably not the only one who thought that him and Robert were getting too close now. In a way Aaron was proud of himself it was clear than that the plan was going well, yet he knew that news traveled fast and with Chas working at the permanently busy pub it was only a matter of time until she heard the rumours.

***

Robert stared at Joel as he pulled out more papers form his small briefcase.

"What are you doing here?" Robert said nervously.

"Well you didn't answer my messages so I came to you" there was a hint of suspicion in his voice that made Robert hesitate before sitting down.

"For what?" Robert said quickly.

"This." Joel said waving a piece of part in front of Robert.

"What's that?" Robert said leaning over.

"Just a few things saying that I had the rights to look through files. You were supposed to sign it yesterday but —"

"Okay." Robert said holding the paper in his hand. He had to admit, the excuse was pretty poor but he didn't mind as much as he thought he would.

Joel studied Robert as he watched him almost stare into space.

"You alright?" he asked causing Robert to break away from his thoughts of Aaron.

Robert bit his lip apart of him wanted to lash out and tell Joel that he wasn't comfortable about what he had said the night before. Yet the thought of Joel abandoning the case and leaving Robert still none the wiser was making him feel sick with worry. He had to put Diane first.

"Yeah." Robert said slowly.

"If you could just sign there." Joel said pointing to the dotted line at the bottom. Robert didn't bother to read the masses of writing as he tried to block out the voices in his head telling him that Joel was bad news.

***

Victoria had spent the last few minutes trying to convince Aaron to see Robert and fix things between them even though she hardly knew anything about their argument in the first place. Aaron was hardly paying attention but soon his eyes met the black large car outside Victoria's cottage that was unfamiliar. It wasn't Robert's and it certainly wasn't Adam's either.

"Who's car is that?" Aaron asked Victoria cutting her off and pointing to the car outside her house.

"Just some guy's, he’s come to see Robert — "

Aaron blinked hard, "Robert? Who was it?"

Victoria shrugged her shoulders,
"Dunno, just some guy who wanted a word with him."

"And you just let him in?"

"Why wouldn't I!" Victoria said starting to become worried.

Aaron bit down on his lip, he hated this feeling. He was becoming so paranoid, it was making him feel sick. What if it was Joel?

Robert sighed hard as he remembered the cries from Victoria and Bernice as they realised that Diane was in intensive care. He wouldn't ever forget the sick feeling in his stomach as he found out that she had been stabbed and left to die. He swore to himself that he would found out who was responsible regardless of the consequences or dangers. He wouldn't give up, not now.
Robert signed his name quickly and passed the pen back to Joel.

"Thanks." Joel said before getting up and walking towards the door.

"Oh and Robert about —" Joel said turning to Robert quickly.

"Don't." Robert said not wanting to be reminded of the words.

"I...I was, I drank too much and —"

'And that's what happens when you're drunk?' Robert thought in his head.

The silence made Joel feel uncomfortable as he stood in the hallway, "I'll be in touch soon." He said before looking at the door and waiting for Robert to open it.

Robert nodded his head before opening the door and shutting it again as Joel made his way towards his car.

Aaron could see him. He could see Joel and he remembered the pain he had caused almost instantly. He still had those piercing green eyes and floppy brown hair but now he was lanky and you could tell that he hadn't aged very well at all.

Aaron sighed as he watched Joel drive away knowing that the bully hadn't seen him. It was making his heart race, the visit was only short yet it had managed to make Aaron get so worked up. He couldn't go on like this.

"Aaron!" Victoria said as she she watched Aaron walk away. Victoria rolled her eyes deciding to stay out of his way and go about her day in peace. Aaron waited for her to become out of sight before walking across the road and pudding hard on her cottage door.

Robert heard someone slamming the door hard and quickly raced to see who it was. Aaron stared up at Robert, he needed to either distract Robert from the truth or bite the bullet and tell him all about Joel. He didn't want to though, he didn't want Robert's pity or his sympathy yet it was the only way to get his mind away from the case.

"Aaon?" Robert said softly.

"I think we need to talk." Aaron said looking at Robert and trying to keep his cool although he was freaking out inside. "Can I come in?"

Robert nodded and moved out of the way allowing Aaron to pass him. Robert blinked slowly as he breathed in Aaron familiar scent, it was inviting and Robert had to try his hardest to resist the urge to pull him closer.

Robert shut the door slowly and walk towards the kitchen, "Drink?" Robert said pulling out a can.

Chapter Text

Aaron tapped on the counter nervously, first he wanted to know if Robert would lie about Joel being in the cottage only a few minutes ago. If he did, he knew that they had been discussing something in secret and things would be even worse.

"I saw a car outside before."

"Yeah..." Robert said looking towards the sink and avoiding Aaron's gaze.

The silence in the air somehow seemed to confirm Aaron's suspicion about the secrecy regarding Joel. Robert bit his lip knowing full well that Joel's visit seemed to be the elephant in the room, he didn't want to lie to Aaron.

"Yeah it was Joel." He said turning round and facing a calm Aaron.

Secretly Aaron was overwhelmed with relief, he knew he was a hypocrite - he was lying to Robert himself yet the thought of Robert lying to him feel horrible and sad.

"What no anger? No reaction?" Robert sighed blinking slowly as he tried to provoke some sort of reaction from Aaron who had now become far too calm for his liking.

Aaron shook his head, "Er no. What did he want?" He said deciding to sit down.

Robert stared at Aaron before sitting opposite him, "Just needed me to sign some things." He said trying to reassure Aaron who now seemed a bit more on edge than before.

Aaron breathed out steadily, "Right, that's it?"

"Yep." Robert nodded, "And to check if I was okay after last night..."

Aaron stared at the ground, he knew Robert had been drunk and now images of Joel steadily placing him in a taxi was filling his mind. He shuddered at the thought, knowing how differently he would have been if he knew Robert was bisexual and had been having an affair with Aaron of all people.

"Considering..." Robert said muttering quietly.

Aaron raised his head, "What do you mean? Considering?"

Robert stammered slightly,"He was just being a typical bloke that's all."

Aaron felt his heart race, he had heard it before. Teachers at school often called Joel just that when he was in detention for roughing up year sevens.

"You alright?" Robert said raising to his feet and getting Aaron some water. "Here have this."

"I don't need water Robert!" Aaron snapped standing up and pacing up and down the room.

"Aaron you're scaring —"

"'Typical bloke' … what does that mean? Did he hurt ya or something, say he was messing around?" Aaron said quickly feeling his heart race wildly.

"No nothing like that! Don't worry it's fine!" Robert snapped back.

***

Aaron breathed in slowly, walking into the living room and trying to calm himself down slightly.

"Aaron." Robert walked towards him,  "There's something you're not telling me."

Aaron turned to face Robert, "I —"

"You've been acting so strange since the other day. Since you met me at the hospital and we nearly on the way back — when we nearly kissed." Robert said softly.

Aaron put his head in his hands and sighed hard, he had felt something when they nearly kissed. Something electrifying had happened between the two boys and Aaron couldn't ignore it. Yet that wasn't what was bothering him, he wished it was that simple.

"That's not it Robert." Aaron said tears starting to from in his eyes.

"Then what?" Robert said softly managing to punch a force of love through Aaron's stomach and make him drown in his guilt.

"You were right about something happening on that day." Aaron said looking at Robert and closing his eyes. "In the car, when you left and I saw you're phone on the floor —"

Robert bit down on his lip. He knew it all along, he knew that Aaron had seen his phone. It was starting to make sense now...why Aaron was so against Robert meeting up wife Joel knowing that he had evidence against him. Why would he have stopped him if he had nothing to hide?

"The message. The message from Joel, you saw it?" Robert said backing away from Aaron.

Aaron wiped the tears away roughly,
"Yeah yeah and I —"

"You what? You thought..." Robert edged closer again his voice becoming more agitated, "Oh let's stop evil Robert finding out the truth eh? Lets convince him that Joel is this dangerous man I need to stay away from —"

"He is! Robert please just listen —"

"And there you go again!" Robert sighed, he couldn't believe Aaron was still trying to mess with his head, "I bet you love it!"

"Love what?" Aaron said innocently.

"Love this! Messing with my head, making me feel like I couldn't trust people thinking that you were innocent in all this!" Robert said his turn to now pace up and down the room.

Aaron looked towards the floor, he hadn't expected Robert to be so angry about it all. He hadn't even told him the whole truth yet it seemed like Robert had already come to his own conclusions.

"Robert when I saw the message something clicked and I —" Aaron said trying once more to tell his side of the story.

"You thought this inspector knows something he shouldn't!" Robert shouted ignoring the tears falling down Aaron's face.

"Like what?" Aaron whispered urging Robert to admit to his suspicion.

"Like your involvement in Diane's stabbing!" Aaron turned away from Robert, the pain was hitting him hard. How could Robert believe he was capable of something like that?

"How could you think that? After everything with your shooting..."

Robert pulled his eyes away from the floor and tried to stare at Aaron yet failed. He knew he was right, he had protested his innocence before and now here he was accusing him of something so horrific.

"You really think I could be able to do something like that to Diane of all people!" Aaron said shouting and moving away from Robert. This was the Robert he knew, the horrible and heartless one who could think like this.

"It adds up. It adds up Aaron, you're not telling me something. You're protecting someone!" Robert said as Aaron walked towards the hall.

He was right, everything he was saying was right. Aaron was only trying to help his mum and he hated the mess he had gotten into.

Aaron bite down on his lip before turning and facing Robert again, "This is Joel, look his poisoned ya against me!"

Robert chuckled before looking at ceiling,
"This isn't about Joel!"

"Yes! Yes it is." Aaron said the frustration growing inside him as he pushed Robert backwards.

"No this is about you doing what Dingle's do best." Robert shoved Aaron off of him,  "Lie and cheat their way out of things." Aaron saw red, he was trying to protect Robert at the end of the day and all he was getting in return was abuse and suspicion like always. The entire plan went out the window as Aaron punched Robert and watched him hurtle towards the floor in a heap.

Aaron stood over him, shaking as he saw Robert cower and plead with him. He was pathetic.

"To think I was only tryna look out for you." Aaron whispered as he bent down next to Robert and watched him struggle to get up.

"Look out for me?" Robert said slowly as he got up and looked at the pain in Aaron's eyes.

Aaron's breathing grew heavier, "You have no idea. No idea at all about what you're dealing with!" He snapped quickly.

"What Joel?"

Aaron went to speak, to tell him everything but he was too tired. He couldn't, not now. His head was pounding and his hand was still shaking from the connection to Robert's sharp jaw. He needed time to clean himself up and try to calm down. He was still reeling from Robert's suspicion.

"You actually — you thought I could have done it?" Aaron whispered before walking towards the door. Robert ran after him and shut the door tight. "Aaron don't go!" He shouted.

Robert sighed, "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to-"

"Open the door Robert." Aaron said calmly.

"You wanted to tell me something, something about —"

"Open the door!" Aaron said louder trying to push past Robert.

"Joel! You..." Robert stopped as he watched Aaron's whole body language change at just the thought of him. "Aaron what's going on?"

Aaron pushed passed Robert again, this time succeeding and bolting out the door. A part of him wanted to race back and tell him the truth, feel his touch and warm embrace as he told him that he would make things better. He craved it badly. Yet he knew it wouldn't work out that way, Robert could easily belittle the entire revelation.

***

Aaron shook his head as he walked into his room and sighed loudly. He was well aware of what use his faults served Robert whenever he wanted to hurt him.

'Poor little messed up Aaron....'

'Literally a failure at everything...'

'You're tapped.'

He couldn't bare the thought of Robert using Joel as just another sign of his weaknesses.

Aaron closed his eyes as he lay back on his bed and studied the large pin in the corner of his room. It was almost glaring at him as he recalled the past days events. His mind was racked with guilt as he remembered the pleasure he felt as he spent more times with the sworn enemy Robert Sugden. Joel Price had turned up and seemed to have ruined everything for Aaron as he became paranoid and nervous once more.

The pressure of keeping his guilty mother quiet, keeping Robert occupied whilst trying to block out any true feelings he felt as well as keeping the secret past him and Joel shared a secret made his heart swell with fear. And now Robert thought he was capable of stabbing someone? Well suspected him. He was genuinely suspicious of his ex lover and Aaron couldn't help but feel a pain in his chest. Robert's opinion shouldn't have mattered yet it did. It's all that mattered.

Aaron walked over to the corner of the room and picked up the object, tracing it over his skin and gently pricking his skin. It wasn't hurting, no were near enough. Aaron sighed, as he was about to add more pressure to his skin. Yet the thought of harming himself again made him feel sick, Aaron bit his lip before holding the pin in his left hand and staring at it wildly.

Suddenly his door swung open and Aaron looked up, quickly hiding the pin. Aaron gulped as he realised who it was.

"What? God Aaron, what's going on?" the panic in his voice confirmed that he had seen Aaron nearly harm himself again. The tears on his face and his surprised and desperate expression told Aaron exactly what he needed to know.

Aaron let the tears roll down his cheeks, he was a mess, a desperate sad mess,
"Rob?" He said sobbing like a child.

Chapter Text

Robert had cleaned himself up before heading over to the pub. He knew that there was big possibility that Aaron would turn him away, tell him to get lost or even punch him again - yet it was worth it. He had seen the hurt in Aaron's eyes earlier and he only wanted to make it stop. He hated the fact that he was somehow causing Aaron pain once more.

Now as Robert stood in the door way face down looking at Aaron he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Aaron looked so small and alone as if he had completely broken down. Robert edged forwards, daring to move closer to Aaron and ease his pain.

Robert held onto Aaron for what felt like hours, desperately gripping onto him and trying to stop Aaron's uncontrollable cries. His brain was racked with worry as he tried to understand exactly why Aaron was acting this way, it couldn't have been their argument before - Aaron was stronger than that wasn't he? Robert bit his lip realising that Aaron had been on edge for a long time, he looked tired and overworked but Robert was too wrapped up in himself to realise.

The thought of Aaron trying to cope with the pain by hurting himself made Robert feel sick with guilt, he knew that he had something to do with it all. He always did.

Aaron suddenly pulled away from Robert, shame overwhelming him as tried to clamber to his feet.

"Aaron..." Robert said softly trying to help Aaron get up slowly. Aaron sighed pushing Robert down as he raised to his feet and stood by the window. He couldn't believe what had just happened, his smallest moment of weakness and Robert just had to see it.

"Aaron talk to me please." Robert whispered.

"Please go away." Aaron said avoiding Robert's gaze and staring out into the night.

"How can I? Not after, not after what —" Robert said his breathing become heavy.

"I didn't do anything though did I!" Aaron said turning round and facing a distraught looking Robert. "I stopped myself"

Robert shook his head, "No you saw me and then you hid it!" He said, the frustration he felt present in his voice.

"That's not how it was..." Aaron said slowly, forcing himself to stand his ground.

Robert ran his fingers through his hair messily before staring back at Aaron,
"Why? Why did you —" He whispered trying to figure out the reason.

Aaron bit his lip, how could he answer the question when the actual answer was so complex. It was everything, it seemed as if the pressure of keeping secrets and faking his interests had finally got to him.

Now he was paying the price.

"Everything just...it was," Aaron sighed loudly. "This is what happens when..."

Robert edged closer to Aaron as he tried to reach out and hold his hand. Aaron looked up at Robert's eyes and saw pity. He hated it. He didn't want nor deserve pity from the man he had been lying to for the last few weeks. Aaron pulled away from Robert "don't" he snapped causing Robert to blink quickly.

"Don't what?" Robert said a hint of of panic in his voice.

"Don't look at me like you feel sorry for me." Aaron said finally given into his emotions once more and letting the tears fall down messily.

Robert ripped his eyes away from Aaron, he was well aware of that look.

"I'm sorry." He said trying to keep his composure and not let the tears fall and his arms wrap round Aaron eagerly.

"Don't do that either!" Aaron snapped letting all his anger out on Robert and allowing himself to feel a bit better.

"What can I do? Just tell me please Aaron let me..." Robert said shouting now as he grew more desperate to make things right.

Aaron shook his head. Suddenly a wave of tiredness raced through him and made him slouch down on his bed lazily,
"You can just..." Robert walked towards the bed, "You can leave me alone."

Robert rubbed his head before bending down near the bed and staring into Aaron's eyes, "I know yo.u" Aaron turned away, "I know when you're worried...or when you're stressed out about something because I've seen the effects..." Robert dropped his head as he remembered finding Aaron in the woods, he remembered the fear and guilt he felt that day. Robert finally gave into his emotions and began to sob quietly, “That  day when I found you ... in the woods. I told myself I'd never ever let you hurt like that again ... ever. "

Aaron looked at Robert and tried to hide his surprise, Robert had tears rolling down his cheeks and Aaron felt the need to make them stop. He didn't want this, he didn't want Robert suffering and feeling even more guilty than he already did. At first the entire plan was to distract Robert and even have fun with it a little, have fun with messing around with Robert who had hurt him so badly. It was the ultimate sweet revenge but now as Aaron saw himself unravel and become so low he hated the fact that he was dragging Robert down with him.

Aaron reached out and touched Robert's cheek causing Robert to stare up at his ex lover and smile softly. It was the first time Aaron had touched Robert so softly since before the affair was announced. Robert couldn't hide his small blush as Aaron began to wipe away at his tears.

"I should be doing that to you." Robert said before giggling and stroking Aaron's cheek.

Aaron bit down on his lip and moved up on the bed before gesturing for Robert to join him. Robert hesitated before sliding next to Aaron and holding onto his head. There was absolutely nothing sexual about Aaron's proposition yet Robert relished in the closeness of their bodies, something he craved for since their last kiss all those months ago.

*+*

A few minutes rolled by and the pain in Aaron's head started to fade as he continued to stare at Robert, something about the silence had managed to make Aaron feel comfortable in Robert's company again.

"I'm sorry about earlier..." Robert whispered into Aaron's neck.

"I think you have to be more specific." Aaron whispered back.

"At mine. I shouldn't have said what I said about you being involved in everything..."

Aaron bit down on his lip before fidgeting slightly. He hated how sincere Robert sounded when he knew that he did have some sort of involvement in the stabbing. He was there, he saw the panic in his mother's eyes, he saw the blood and the he hard Diane's shallow breathe.

"It's okay." Aaron said quickly.

"Having Joel help me —" Robert said slowly. Aaron instantly pulled away from their comfortable position and broke away from their small quietness. Aaron started to breathe oddly causing Robert to sit up just as Aaron was doing.

"Hey Aaron..." Robert said patting his back slowly before Aaron sighed and walked away from the bed.

"What happened?" Robert said as the panic started to build inside him again and he felt sick with fear. "Please Aaron...don't do anything."

Aaron hated himself even more as he saw how scared Robert looked. He was panicking, scared that Aaron would do something to himself. Aaron felt his heart pound loudly, he didn't want this feeling anymore. He needed to find a way of letting it all go. "Just talk to me. It will help, I swear." Robert whispered begging Aaron.

Aaron felt his lip quiver as he tried to speak, "Rob, it’s -1"

"It's what?" Robert wiped away his tear "I know that me and you, I know you hate me but let me help."

"It's Joel." Aaron said finally easing the tension in his shoulders and rubbing his head.

"Joel?" Robert frowned, "Okay...what...what about him?"

Aaron sighed quickly before deciding to take control, “I knew him."

Robert frowned,
"What do you mean?"

"From school, he was the year above me." Aaron said struggling to find the right words to say.

Robert blinked slowly, "Did ya not get on?"

Aaron nodded, "Yeah you could say that." He said almost scoffing at the innocent comment.

Robert moved up on the bed fixing his hear before asking Aaron another question, "Aaron, did something..."

"I forget about it all. I tried my hardest to just get over it. But then when I saw that message, when I saw the name and I saw that he knew more stuff about me. I just panicked and I needed you to understand."

Robert moved towards Aaron kneeling on the bed and staring at Aaron who was now edging towards the door.

"Aaron what are you tryna say? Forget what?" Robert said his nerves getting the better of him.

"What he did." Aaron said quietly.

Robert climbed off the bed so he was now standing right in front of Aaron. Robert rubbed Aaron's arm slowly, staring into his eyes and giving him some sort of reassurance.

"Aaron." Robert whispered causing Aaron to look away quickly, "Aaron what did he do?"

Aaron sat down on the bed again, suddenly feeling light headed.

"At first he just he used to call me names and push me around." Aaron looked at Robert and half expected him to snigger or try to hide his laughter but Robert just sat next to him and stoked his back calmly.

"Go on." Robert said softly.

"But then he er, it got worse. He started following me home and just making me feel like things were my fault all the time. I mean I was only a kid but —"

"It must have hurt ya. Effected ya." Robert said softly holding onto his hand. "Is that why you didn't want me to go near him. Because it reminded you of how horrible he used to be. "

Aaron nodded his head before letting another tear roll.

"Is that it?" Robert said slowly, "You can tell me anything you know that. Why do I feel like it was more than just him being a prat at school?"

Aaron gulped hard, "One day he er, he followed me and he beat me up. Badly." Robert let go of Aaron's hand as anger started to build up inside him, "He didn't even care, I was just lying there. I was tryna tell him to stop but he wouldn't." Aaron put his head in his hands.

Robert blinked quickly, "Hey it's okay." He said touching Aaron's hair.

"I just remember his green eyes, staring at me. Staring down and me before punching me again."

Robert felt his heart stop as he remembered Joel's piercing eyes. The green sharpness of them that at first made him feel uncomfortable and unsettled him entirely.

"When I saw that text on your phone. I saw the name, the full name and it just clicked. I came straight back here and I searched up his name and I saw a picture of him. A little article hidden away. It was him. I was back there again, this scared little boy getting beat the shit out of!" Aaron said trying not to cry anymore and watching Robert's reaction closely. Aaron bit his lip as Robert paced up and down the room trying to calm himself down.

"Why didn't you tell me before?" Robert said desperately.

"I tried but you...you didn't want to listen." Aaron said quickly.

Robert felt his heart race as it pounded loudly. The guilt he felt began to surface as he thought back to how desperate Aaron sounded when he was begging him not go and meet Joel.

"The little shit. Just beating people up for the sake of it. You know what he said that he used to put people in their place, he made it seem like he was doing everyone a favour. That they needed to be taught a lesson." Robert said his breathing become erratic.

"Rob-" Aaron said slowly moving towards him.

"It still doesn't explain it though...why you were so scared and worried for me. I'm not a kid like you was, his hardly gonna have it in for me is he?" Robert said thinking back to how nervous Aaron was on the phone.

"Because the reason why he had a problem with me was because of who I was...because of how I was. Who I was interested in — same as you. Well partly —" Aaron said rambling on before wiping his tears and moving off of the bed.

"What?" Robert said confused by what Aaron meant. "You're not making any sense?"

"Because...he knew I was gay. God even before I fully understood it all. He was homophobic Robert, that's why he beat me up, that's why I panicked. I thought he could still be the same and you were at risk. He hurt me because he hated who I was." Aaron said quickly the words making him feel sick as he watched Robert's face fall towards the ground.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Robert stepped back realising that things were starting to make sense to him. The reason why Aaron was so against Robert going anywhere near someone like that. It clicked in Robert's brain as he thought back to the things Aaron had told him about his own hatred towards his sexuality before he accepted he was gay. Robert blinked quickly wondering if Joel had contributed to his warped view of himself, it was making him feel sick just thinking about how much damage Joel could have done to Aaron.

"He wouldn't just call me names, he'd call me a little fairy, a stupid pansy —“

Robert stopped as he remembered the words Joel had said the other night. The mean homophobic slurs that he had apologised for the next day.

"He said that stuff when I met with him. He was horrible but I didn't even realise until the next day. I was too drunk to even register it all."

Aaron nodded almost thankful that he was right to be worried about Robert. He knew someone like Joel could never change and now there was actual proof he was still as homophobic and cruel.

"I thought that he might have done something to ya and I needed to just —"

Robert launched into Aaron and held him tightly, he couldn't believe what he was hearing. He couldn't imagine how scared and anxious he would have been if it was the other way round. If he watched Aaron drive of and go and meet up with someone he knew was so dangerous and horrible.

They stayed like that for a few minutes as they became familiar with each other's scents and wrapped their arms in each other. Aaron sighed loudly knowing that although Robert was protecting him by holding onto him so tightly he was also melting away more of the precious hate he had for him. The hate that managed to stop Aaron crashing into Robert's lips and being able to touch him all over. Then it hit him, a reason why he couldn't give in to his feelings. He was still lying to Robert, not about Joel but about his involvement in the stabbing. Robert was still unaware of the plan to keep Robert away from the case and now as he spilled the beans about his past with Joel, he couldn't help but feel like the whole story could easily appear ridiculously coincidental.

Robert already secretly suspected Aaron but for now that was put on hold as he obviously believed his wariness regarding Joel. Yet that could easily change. If Robert found out about the plan then he was sure that Robert would second guess his whole sob story about Joel's homophobic ways. Aaron bit his lip as he realised how easily Robert could not believe his ways once he realised that there was plan to keep him away from finding out the truth about Diane's stabbing.

A few weeks ago Robert's opinion and judgement would have meant nothing to him. At the end of the day Robert had clearly done much worse yet Aaron wasn't like Robert. He felt instant guilt whenever he did something wrong, unlike Robert who would think about his ways after it was too late. Yet now the thought of Robert finding out the entire truth was weighing heavy on his mind, it was making him feel sick. Robert knew Aaron wasn't perfect but he knew he was a good man. He had told him enough times, but if found out that he had been lied to...Robert would never look at Aaron the same. The sparkle in his eyes would fade and be replaced with the hate that Aaron mirrored.

Robert let go of Aaron and balanced himself so that their noses were touching. Robert breathed slowly allowing Aaron to shake his head slowly and try to move away. But he couldn't, he couldn't resist Robert for a minute longer. He needed Robert, he needed him in a way he couldn't even describe. He didn't know if he loved him like he used to. He probably never would. But right now as he gazed into his eyes, the pressure he felt just melted away and he was able to find some sort of peace. He wasn't certain of most things but he knew that he wanted a distraction himself.

The irony of the entire situation made Aaron smile wickedly as Robert began to lean in and close the gap between them.

Robert breathed in quickly before crashing his lips into Aaron's and feeling himself almost melt into Aaron as they become one again. The kiss was more than just a kiss, it was so much more. Both lovers felt a desperate need for each other, for comfort and for a sense of familiarity. After Aaron had confessed to knowing Joel and trusted Robert with his past Robert couldn't believe he was now allowing him to touch him like this. He didn't understand why Aaron was allowing Robert to caress his face and stare lovingly into his eyes seconds before they reignited their passion and embraced once more. But Robert didn't care. He knew Aaron was confused and in a bad state of mind, probably lonely and in need of anyone's company but it didn't matter because in that moment Aaron was his and he was most definitely Aaron's.

 

*^*

 

The sound of Chas' yelling quickly ripped the boys away from each other before it could go any further than their passionate kisses. Robert stared at the clock in the corner of Aaron's room seeing that it was almost half past midnight.

Robert nodded as Aaron stared at the door and then back to the floor,
"I should go..." he said before picking up his jacket.

Aaron nodded slowly.

"Are you gonna be okay?" Robert said nervously.

Aaron bit his lip knowing exactly what Robert was referring to, "It was...it was just a moment of weakness. I'm fine." He whispered before looking towards the ground.

"Hey, it's nothing to be ashamed of..." Robert said.

"Of course it is." Aaron said before Robert had placed his hand on his shoulder.

"I think you're the bravest person I know Livesy." Hesaid causing Aaron to roll his eyes uncomfortably. "I mean it.” He said before kissing Aaron's forehead softly and walking towards the door.

"Robert." Aaron said slowly as he watched Robert turn and face him, "Don't er...you're not gonna tell anyone are you? 

"Of course I'm not"

Aaron breathed a sigh of relief,
"What are you gonna do about Joel?" it was a question he'd been dreading to ask for some time now.

Robert blinked hard, “Trust me...I'll sort it all out. You get some rest yeah." Robert said staring at Aaron's bed.

"Thank you for listening and being there for me." Aaron blushed as he secretly tried to refer to their kiss.

Robert noticed looking towards the floor then back up at Aaron. He loved when he was like this, all shy and sweet.

"Always Aaron, I'll always be there for you." Robert said before nodding his head and opening the door, "Better go whilst Chas is serving."

Aaron bit down on his lip and nodded.

"Seriously get some rest." Robert said smiling as he backed away and shut the door behind him before disappearing into the night still high on the taste of Aaron's lips on his. He was almost buzzing with love and adrenaline as he climbed into bed and sent Aaron a text smiling as this time he managed to press send.

I'm home and safe.

Aaron smiled as he looked down at his phone and felt his heart race.

Nice one, very funny.

He text back before almost instantly receiving a reply from a keen Robert.

Better late than never.

Aaron sighed before putting his phone down next to him. He was grinning, actually grinning as he sat on his bed and stared at the phone resisting the urge to send a flirty message back that would probably start an hour long texting war between Robert and himself. He was still feeling guilty about it all yet somehow Robert had managed to ease it slightly. Somehow Aaron was able to forget about it all and just feel slightly normal.

Aaron bit his lip before picking up his phone again and started to text a reply he knew Robert would approve of. Aaron slouched down further still grinning like mad as he prepared himself for a long text filled night with Robert, he smiled as he realised this night the glare of his phone wouldn't irritate him as much as before.

Chapter Text

For the first time in months, Robert was able to wake up with a genuine smile on his face. He had spent hours on the phone to Aaron all night, secretly trying to contain his laughter as Aaron continued to send him funny messages. Eventually the messages stopped at around half fourish, only after Aaron had persuaded them to go to sleep and Robert had once again reminded Aaron of the rest he needed. Robert bit down on his lip as he fought the urge to stare at the messages and reminisce about the previous night.

Robert sighed slowly as his thoughts turned to a pressing matter he couldn't forget, when the messages finally stopped and the light poured in from the windows was when Robert turned his attention to Joel. He didn't know what to do in all honesty. If he confronted him about the abuse that was obviously kept quiet from his work life, he knew that he could end up in danger. Robert was now aware of how violent and aggressive Joel could be and the thought of him suddenly turning ugly and lashing out as Robert told him he was fired made his heart race. Robert shook his head hating the fact that he was so weak and acting like such a coward.

After a few more minutes of pointless questioning Robert hauled himself out of bed and walked lazily down the stairs and into the kitchen were he was met by Victoria and Adam.

Victoria raised her eyebrows and stared in Robert's direction, "You got in late last night..." She said quickly before biting down on her lip and smirking. Although she was obviously concerned when she heard the door shut as her brother finally got home yet apart of her was happy that he wasn't 'distracted' anymore.

The thought of him being with Aaron made her smile yet she knew that with Aaron came confusion and hurt, something she didn't want for either of them. Robert stared back like a deer in headlights. He hadn't gotten in that late hade he? In all honesty he hadn't exactly remembered the time, all he knew was that he instantly felt the urge to keep talking to Aaron as soon as his head hit the pillow.

"Did I?" Robert said innocently as he watched Victoria's grin widened as he stared at Adam who instantly rolled his eyes.

"Oh and er maybe put your phone on silent next time." Victoria whispered loudly as she watched Robert blush like mad. He cringed as he remembered the small ringing of his phone whenever he received another message from Aaron.

Adam huffed loudly, "Yeah I'm sick of ya treating this place like it's your own!"

"Adam!" Victoria shouted.

"What Vic?" Adam sighed.

"He lives here:" Victoria angrily replied.

"So? It doesn't give him the right to keep me up at night 'cos his texting some random." Adam said staring at Robert with disgust written all over his face.

Robert raised his head quickly he wasn't too keen on rumours flying around about his dating life, "Oi you got the wrong idea mate!" He said watching as Adam rolled his eyes again.

Adam looked at Victoria hoping for her to stick up for him, when he got nothing in reply he got up from his seat and walked towards the front door, "Text me when his out yeah." Adam shouted towards Victoria.

Robert shook his head slowly. Although he wasn't at all keen on Adam, deep down he knew that he was a good man and that his sister loved him very much as did Aaron. He could never hate him the way Adam hated him, he had respect for the man who made two of the most important people in his life smile everyday. But it didn't help when Adam intentionally caused further rifts in their relationship obviously still resentful towards the man who caused his best friend so much heartache. The small jibes and rolling eyes made Robert feel even more guilt and whenever he looked at his sister he felt the guilt double, knowing that she was in the middle.

"Oh grow up!" Robert shouted back causing Adam to re-enter the room.

"Oh cranky 'cos you ain't got a reply yet." Adam said with a wicked grin on his face.

Robert went to open his mouth as Victoria pulled her arm towards his mouth, "It's none of our business who his on the phone to —"

Robert pushed Victoria's arm out of the way, "Says the one who brought it up." He murmured.

"Well I thought it might of been." Victoria stopped before looking at Adam and then back to Robert, "Aaron." She whispered
moving a tad closer to her brother so her husband couldn't made out who she meant.

Robert edged away before staring at the floor, he hated how well Victoria knew him. There wasn't anything exactly wrong with it, but he knew Aaron was no where near ready to be together again. Robert had regained his trust but not his love, not yet anyway and he didn't need Adam adding his opinion and probably giving Aaron grief he didn't deserve.

"Not anyone round here..." Adam mumbled as Victoria shot him an a angry look, "Like anyone would touch him!"

Robert rolled his eyes and bit his lip. Opening his mouth to speak Robert turned to look at Adam before Victoria interjected once more.

"Seriously Adam." She snapped pointing a finger at her husband.

Adam opened his mouth before running to his phone that began to ring loudly.

"Y'alright mate?" Adam said softly standing by the kitchen door and allowing Victoria and Robert to continue their conversation.

Victoria edged forward,
"So..." She whispered staring a Robert with anticipation.

Robert gulped hard, he didn't want to admit it to anyone. He didn't want to admit the fact that last night felt like a break through for them both and as if things had suddenly changed. Robert was able to be there for Aaron without anyone judging their relationship, and for the first time Robert felt like he was the only one Aaron could turn to for support. He felt wanted, needed by someone who he equally needed. He had never felt like that before, the balance in their relationship was new for him. He had always been the rock in the relationship, with Chrissie he persistently was her shoulder to cry on whenever Lachlan decided to take pictures of the next woman walking by. Of course Chrissie had been amazing during the aftermath of Katie's death and he valued her support but he never felt a huge need or want for it. Robert sighed realising it was because he knew he also had Aaron to turn to. And he usually did, it was Aaron who he called the day Katie died. Not Chrissie. It was Aaron who he needed...who he genuinely wanted in that moment to be his rock, to help and to support him merely hours before he was supposed to recite similar vows to his blushing bride.

"Leave it Vic." Robert said after finally replying.

Victoria pushed her fingers through her hair in frustration desperately wanting the best for her brother and anxious about who he was up half the night with. Her fingers were well and truly crossed all of a sudden, hoping it was Aaron instead of some random in his place who Robert dosen't want. Victoria pouted as she thought back to how vulnerable and alone her brother had become recently, the thought of him meeting random blokes to take the pain of not being with Aaron away made her feel sick with worry. Then it hit her, the man who was her for 'business'.

Her heart fell as she remembered how embarrassed Robert had been about her letting him walk on in. It made sense really, Robert using him for sex and then legging it home, too embarrassed to own up to his mistake and feeling totally embarrassed as the man managed to track him down.

"Was it that guy that came to see ya?" Victoria said quickly as she watched Adam who suddenly began to frown.

Robert was caught off guard the mention of Joel made his heart race as he remembered that he was still working on the case,

"No Vic —" Robert said before Adam sighed loudly and stopped the conversation.

"C'mon man the scrap yard is —" Adam said before rolling his eyes, "Wait...so ya not coming in 'cos ya can't be bothered!"

Victoria bit her lip, "Is that..." she mouthed to Adam.

"Aaron mate!" Adam continued before pacing up and down the hallway. Robert widened his eyes as he heard Aaron's name being mentioned.

"What's wrong?" Victoria whispered.

Adam pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at Victoria,
"Aaron. He reckons he's not feeling too great so he can't come in for the morning."

Suddenly Robert started feeling queasy, the panic was growing inside him as he thought about what state Aaron could be in as he sat in the kitchen. For all he knew Aaron could have taken a turn for the worst and decided to self harm to cope with it all.

"Listen I've got the morning off why don't I help ya?"

"What you?" Adam grinned, before holding the phone to his ear. "What about later on...you think you could make it?" he said a hint of sarcasm in his voice that made Robert even more irritated.

The room fell silent as both Victoria and Robert tried to hear Aaron's response. Robert sighed once he heard Aaron murmur a 'maybe' causing Adam to blink quickly before putting the phone down and staring at Victoria.

"Looks like it's take your wife to work day then ain't it!" Adam said playfully winking at Victoria as she smiled at him brightly.

Robert rose to his feet suddenly as the thoughts circling round in his mind made him feel sick. He was ridiculously paranoid and the thought of Aaron harming himself was too unbearable to leave stored away in his mind. He needed to deal with it. Robert sighed as he realised that he couldn't just march over to the pub and demand to see Aaron. He needed to text him something, anything to make sure he was alright. Robert left the room without caring about Victoria's complaining and rushed into his room grabbing his phone and finding Aaron's name in his contacts.

Robert cringed as he tried to think of something to write to Aaron. He was normally good with words, he spent hours writing letters to clients and he had sent at least ten messages to Aaron the night before yet now he was staring at the screen with nothing at all to say. He didn't want to seem to forward and say something like 'Please tell me you're okay!' But then again if Aaron was hurt and vulnerable a silly text wouldn't help matters at all. A few minutes passed and Robert finally decided on an appropriate message to send, something that would make Aaron know that Robert cared.

Don't forget Aaron, I'm always there for you whenever you need to talk.

Twenty slow minutes droned by as Robert sat impatiently on his bed awaiting Aaron's response. He felt pathetic as he caught his reflection in the mirror and he saw how scared he looked. Another minute rolled by and the sound of Victoria and Adam chatting away had stopped and been replaced by the sound of the door slamming rang loudly in his ears. Robert walked to his when window and stared at Victoria and Adam walking hand and hand towards Adam's car.

Robert bit his lip as looked at the pub ahead wondering how Aaron was. Wondering if he was even there. He couldn't take the waiting anymore as he ripped his eyes away and walked back towards his bed. His phone flashed brightly as the familiar sound rang through the room, Robert sighed slowly almost shaking as he reached out for his phone. Suddenly dark thoughts circled round his head once more the feeling was exhausting as he placed the phone in his hands. He was making himself ill with worry as he twitched and tried his best to rationalise the entire situation. It was pointless as he kicked his bedpost and sighed, Aaron was once again the only thing on his mind.

 

Chapter Text

Robert held his breath as he gazed down at the phone, knowing that a simple 'thanks Rob' would suffice his desperate need to know Aaron was okay.

Robert widened his eyes as he realised who had messaged him, his heart began to race as his blood boiled and made him feel light headed. Joel. The message was clear, he wanted to confirm Robert's email address so he could send over some other things about the investigation.

It was short thank God, so Robert was quickly able to scan it and close the page without staring at it for hours on end. He hated how Joel could so easily play with his life without given him a second thought. His mind quickly fell to Aaron's state of mind because of him, because of this obviously still bitter young man who just couldn't let things go. Robert bit his lip as he wondered how far Joel would go to get back at Aaron, just thinking about how far he had already come was making Robert shiver. Robert shook his head, he resented the fact that Joel was invading his thoughts when he needed to focus fully on Aaron.

Instantly Robert shoved the phone in his back pocket and made his way downstairs, pulling on his leather jacket and heading towards the pub where he was met by a tired looking Chas. Robert gulped hard, her eyes told him that she had hardly slept the night before and he couldn't help but wonder why.

Robert walked up to the bar and went to speak before closing his mouth and spotting Paddy sat in the corner. He could hardly just ask where Aaron was when both of his parents, who really did hate him, were in the room. Robert thought for a minute before deciding to order a pint and then sneak out the back to see if Aaron was in, making sure both Paddy and Chas were preoccupied before he disappeared.

"Er pint please Chas..." Robert murmured as Chas slowly approached.

Chas nodded before noticing the worry and slight panic in Robert's eyes and grew paranoid, wondering if it had anything to do with Diane's recovery.

"Something wrong?" Chas asked pulling his pint and keeping eye contact. Robert shuffled slightly confused by the sincerity in Chas' voice which only promoted her to explain herself further, "Is it Diane? Is she alright?" Chas asked hastily.

Robert gulped hard as a wave of guilt washed over him, Diane needed him as well. Diane was in hospital recovering yet Aaron was still the only thing on his mind. A voice in Robert's head told him that Aaron needed him more and Robert felt his shoulders relax as the tension created moments before began to ease.

As Robert looked up again at Chas he smiled slowly trying his best to ease her own obvious concern and worry,
"No...no she's doing well actually" he said thinking about what Victoria had said a few days ago. 'I don't know something about her today...it looked as if she got her glow back' Robert smiled softly remembering how happy she looked as she told him about it all.

Chas blinked fast as she passed him his pint and took the change from his hands,
"Thank God." She said smiling.

"You should ... you should go and see her. I'm sure she'd be happy to take ya." Robert said trying to make Chas feel better.

Chas smiled back weakly this time as the thought of actually seeing Diane again ads her feel dizzy with guilt and regret,
"We’ll see."

 

*^*

 

Robert waited for another ten minutes before Paddy walked across the bar and ordered another pint before deciding to make small talk with Chas. Now was his chance. Robert drained the last few gulps of his pint before swiftly walking towards the exit and walking through the back door that was thankfully unlocked. Robert felt his heart beating as he peered into the living room and saw no one there, the sound of Chas and Paddy talking made Robert back out of the room realising that he had enough time to check upstairs.

Robert walked up the stairs slowly before standing outside Aaron's room. A stab of worry hit his chest as he realised the last time he had barged through his door, he had found Aaron at one of his lowest points. Robert sighed slowly contemplating whether or not to knock before walking in, the thought of given Aaron time to hide whatever he was doing made Robert feel anxious yet he needed to trust him. Robert knocked twice, making sure Aaron had heard him, when a few seconds past Robert bit his lip as he thought about how close he was to Aaron. Only a wooden door separated them yet he felt miles away from his ex lover. Yesterday Aaron had broken down a all he built the minute Robert had first managed to break his heart yet now Robert couldn't help but wonder if he had thought it was all just a mistake. Robert shook his head dismissing his thoughts and instead deciding to open the door regardless of the possibilities that lay head.

Robert pushed the door open and walked into Aaron's room, his eyes wide with worry. Robert blinked quickly as he let out a sigh of relief, looking at Aaron resting on his bed with a laptop resting on this thighs and his earphones placed firmly in his ears. He looked so innocent as he licked his lip and continued tapping away at the keyboard obviously unaware of Robert's presence in the room. Robert couldn't help but smile looking at how peaceful and calm Aaron looked, it was all he wanted.

Suddenly Aaron turned his attention away from the laptop and gulped hard as he saw Robert standing by his door awkwardly. Aaron bit his lip as he yanked out his headphones and wondered how long Robert had been standing there.

"Rob? What are ya doing?" Aaron said closing the laptop slowly.

Robert stammered on his words, he didn't know what to say. He couldn't say he was checking up on him because he was scared he might have done something, not after yesterday. Yet what excuse did he actually have. He wasn't returning anything and it wasn't as if they had bumped each other on the street, Robert had come into Aaron's room. He must of been there for a particular reason right?

Aaron bit down on his lip again. Seeing Robert struggle with his words made him blush slightly, this whole chasing Robert thing was beginning to become a breeze he thought to himself before feeling terribly guilty for joking about the obvious fear Robert felt. He could see it in his eyes, the worry he was trying to hide and the almost relief he was feeling as he realised that he hadn't hurt himself.

"I tried messaging you earlier but you didn't answer so I thought I'd —" Robert said quickly trying to get his words our without standing like a needy loser.

"So you thought you'd come over and check up on me." Aaron said bluntly causing Robert to widen his eyes, the last thing he wanted was for Aaron to feel like he didn't trust him. Aaron smiled signalling to Robert that he was joking before Robert rolled his eyes and tried to shrug of the sick feeling in the pit of stomach he felt moments before.

Robert laughed nervously, "Sorry I just wanted to know you were okay." He said staring at the floor.

"I don't blame you after yesterday..." Aaron mumbled trying his best not to dwell on last night too much.

"Still." Robert said staring at Aaron, "I should have trusted you." He continued.

Aaron flinched realising that Robert was trying his hardest to trust a liar. He was lying to him from the start, he would have never told him about Joel if it wasn't for his and Cain's plan. The trust they had was already broken long before the whole plan was made yet now any hope for repair was dashed completely.

"My phone, it was ... it's charging." Aaron said trying to change the topic of conversation.

Robert nodded before smiling softly realising how he hadn't even thought about that before.

"Considering last night it’s been charging for a while now" Aaron said smiling making Robert laugh as he remembered the messages that nearly drained all his battery too.

"Yeah last night was ..."

"It was good to just talk to you... text and you know just forget everything I suppose." Aaron said filling in the gap for Robert.

Robert nodded slowly disregarding the fact that he wasn't too sure what 'everything' was, "Yeah it was." Robert mind raced back to the car journey he shared with Aaron when he managed to make him forget about 'everything' temporarily. He knew the feeling.

"Adam said you were pulling a sicky!" Robert said laughing.

Aaron threw his head back before pointing to the laptop on his bed "more like working at home really!" he said watching Robert nod his head playfully.

"Sure." Robert said smirking and making Aaron blush.

A minute of comfortable silence was interrupted by Chas' shouts from downstairs, hearing her yell after Marlon about more deliveries not coming in time filled the room.

"Your mum...." Robert said as he looked in Aaron's direction "she was asking after Diane before" he continued as he saw Aaron's eyes widen.

"Oh yeah..." Aaron said nodding his head and trying to stop his heart beating so fast.

"Yeah she wanted to know how she was doing..." Aaron raised his head urging Robert to tell him, "She's fine. Better than fine actually, she's getting back to her old self." Aaron smiled as he saw the pride in Robert's eyes.

"Anyways, I should get going." Robert said walking towards the door.

Aaron frowned quickly not wanting Robert to see the disappointment in his eyes, "Er yeah good idea. I got to sort out some paperwork." Aaron said trying to think of something to say.

Robert turned to face the door when almost instantly a voice in his head told him to say what he wanted to say. He wanted desperately to turn around and tell Aaron if he didn't mind him staying for a bit longer or if he needed help with any of the paperwork. He had a chance now, a chance to take the rare opportunity and act on his feelings for Aaron.

"Aaron..." Robert said looking towards his ex lover. "I don't — is it okay if..." Aaron smiled softly seeing how flustered Robert was getting.

"I was just wondering if you'd like to go out or something considering you're not at work:" Robert said so quickly that Aaron had to take a minute to actually register what he was trying to say.

Robert bit down on his lip realising that Aaron hadn't actually replied yet. Robert threw his head to the floor suddenly as he recalled what he had just asked Aaron, his heart beated wildly as Robert imagined Aaron thinking that a sorta date was something he had planned all along when in fact it was just blurted out messily as he stared into Aaron's eyes and took a chance. Robert sighed slowly, he had taken a chance on Aaron. He had taken a chance on his feelings towards his ex lover that he knew wouldn't fade.

Chapter Text

"Yes" Aaron said to a shocked Robert who was trying to hide his surprisment. Aaron had tried his hardest to turn his ex down, knowing that the whole distraction plan was pretty pointless cosier ring the fact that Robert seemed to want to forget about everything as much as he did. Yet the kindness in Robert's eyes told him it was safe and that there was no harm in a drink somewhere away from the village.

Robert felt the butterflies travel through him as he saw Aaron smile in his direction, "Really?" Robert said the hope rising as he spoke.

"Yeah I mean, yeah whatever..." Aaron said trying to act cool about the whole situation.

Robert looked down at the floor, conscious of his growing smile. Aaron didn't mind thought not one bit, he loved this side of Robert. This shy loving side that no one else had the pleasure of witnessing.

"Great, well I'll text ya in like fifteen minutes. Give ya the chance to get ready" Robert said fidgeting slightly and staring at Aaron's clock.

Aaron frowned, "What's wrong with what I'm wearing now?" he said waving a hand over his purple hoddie and joggers.

Robert went to speak, he had to say something to eradicate his obviously poor choice of words. Yet Aaron's warm smile told him he didn't need to.

 

*^*

 

Robert left Aaron's room a few minutes after as he heard the sound of more punters at the bar and assumed that Chas would probably be too rushed off her feet to notice Robert's presence. Robert decided to wait by his car, it was the safest bet in all honesty. The thought of going back home and having to face the messages left by Joel was something he didn't want to endure.

It was silly and childish when Robert thought about how badly he wanted to ignore Joel entirely but he had no idea what to say yet without making things even worse. He knew that Joel trusted him but that could all change if he was to suddenly turn on his investigator. Robert picked up his phone and scrolled towards the message again, studying it's simplicity and growing tired with anger.

Robert was thankful when after a painful ten minutes past Aaron had walked towards his car with a smile plastered on his face. Robert felt his stomach churn with nerves as he told himself not to mess it all up, not to say anything that could potentially drive Aaron away for good. Robert turned his attention to Aaron, admiring his strong arms on show as he abandoned his purple hoddie and opted for a black shirt instead. His hair was free from gel this time and Robert couldn't help but want to know why, as Robert gazed up at Aaron and saw the bright red blush in his cheeks he soon realised that Aaron had probably been rushing and he smiled to himself imaging Aaron hastily preparing to meet him.

Aaron tapped on the glass car window, stepping back as Robert pushed a button that started to slowly roll it down so that Robert could hear him.

"We going in your car?" Aaron said leaning in and allowing Robert to inhale his musky scent.

Robert eyed Aaron up and down before looking at the steering wheel,
"Don't mind do ya?" He said trying to act like the old cocky Robert that Aaron had first fallen for.

Aaron looked towards the street and noticed Cain walking towards the Woolpack. A stab of guilt hit his chest as he imagined Cain's anger as he realised Aaron was gone when he probably needed to discuss the plans progress. A part of him felt like it was right in a way, he thought about how Cain would have wanted him spending afternoons with Robert in order to convince him to leave Diane's stabbing to the police. Aaron wasn't ready to admit it to himself yet but he knew deep down that soon Cain would be on his case again asking if he had managed to distract Robert enough yet.

He knew that apart of him would want to lie to his uncle and tell him that he needed more time but the reaction from Cain was what made Aaron queasy. The thought of Cain telling him that the plan was over and that he'd try a more violent approach was something Aaron dreaded with all his heart. He knew that soon it would all come to an end and Cain would surely do his best to keep them apart for good, leaving Robert confused and distressed. The sound of Robert's voice managed to cut off Aaron's daydreaming and rip him away from his negative thoughts.

"You getting in or what?" Robert said his confidence back in full swing as he leant against the seat and watched as Aaron turn to look around once more before opening the car door and sliding into the seat next to him.

As Aaron shut the door behind him, Robert slowly tapped away at the wheel before sighing slowly, "So where to then?" He said staring at Aaron who was now biting his lip and dropping his head towards the floor.

Aaron blinked quickly, paranoia rushing through him as he imagined Paddy marching towards the car and dragging him out. The question was simple enough yet Aaron approached it as something much more. As he thought about it he felt all the guilt and pain melt away as he stared back at Robert and decided to live for the moment.

"Anywhere." He whispered moving towards Robert, softly touching his hand before sitting back on his seat and watching Robert start the engine smiling softly as he drove out of the small village with Aaron by his side.

 

^*^

 

Robert opened the window slightly allowing the cool air to rush through his body, smiling to himself as he drove through the narrow Yorkshire paths. Every now and then Aaron felt a shiver race through his body as he stared over at Robert who seemed to be completely at ease. His thoughts couldn't help but travel back to the previous day's events, he was truly terrified of what nearly happened. Even thinking about how close he was from doing something to himself again was making him feel sick. Yet he was thankful it was Robert who had found him instead of his mum or Cain. Imagining his mother's horror and his uncle complete lack of understanding was something he was thankful he didn't have to endure.

The fact that Robert had found at such a a low point must have been significant Aaron thought to himself as he relaxed in Robert's leather seated car. Anyone could have walked in but Robert did. Robert gazed over at Aaron for longer than he should have, allowing Aaron to stare back into Robert's green eyes, he remembered almost instantly the effect those eyes had on him. His mind flashed back in time, back before the summer, back before the spring, back when their love was still unsaid and only showed through secret meetings and passionate kisses. The way Aaron would feel himself almost drown in the sharpness of the colour, feeling overwhelmed with passion and love as he allowed himself to think about when he might be able to look at Robert again in such a way. Back then, their intimacy was always something that was uncertain, dependent on how well Robert could lie his way out of an event or important meeting - Aaron blinked softly remembering how quickly he fell for the older man. It was instant, the spark that he felt between them but so was the damage, quick and difficult to repair. Aaron coughed quickly before shaking his head almost trying to shake out the loving memories he shared with the man sitting next to him.

"You okay?" Robert said biting down in his lip as he noticed Aaron's troubled expression. Almost instantly he felt as if he had done something wrong, the feeling made him feel sick inside. A voice in his head told him that we already in thin ice with Aaron and he couldn't afford to make things any worse.

Aaron turned to Robert,
"Yeah why?"

Robert shrugged his shoulders, "Dunno you just seem like you have a lot on your mind." Instantly Robert felt like kicking himself, of course Aaron had a lot on his mind only yesterday he nearly harmed himself again.

Aaron blinked softly before pinching the top of his noes and sighing. He knew Robert didn't mean anything by it, his embarrassed expression told him that. Yet he couldn't help but realise how obvious his troubles seemed to Robert when Chas and Cain still hadn't noticed the guilt eating away at him.

"Yeah..." Aaron nodded, "It's okay though."

Robert smiled weakly realising that Aaron was trying his best to reassure him in the best way he could, even as he struggled with his own tormented mind Aaron still felt the need to soothe Robert's growing worry.

 

*^*

 

After another twenty minutes of driving Robert and Aaron found themselves parking outside a small almost deserted pub overlooking a small lake. Robert felt the urge to guide Aaron into the room the way he used to do the same with Chrissie yet instinct took over and Robert let go of the thought realising that it wasn't appropriate.

Aaron felt his heart race wildly as Robert walked in front of him gesturing to a small table near the window away from the rest of the loud chatter from the locals. It was practically silent as Aaron pulled out his chair and slid in, listening out for small murmurs from a couple at the opposite end of the room. Aaron gulped hard suddenly conscious of the fact that although spending time with Robert had become more pleasurable, there was still very much a task at hand.

"I'll go get us a pint yeah?" Robert said hovering over the table and fishing in his pocket. Aaron raised his eyebrows before patting his jacket.

"No, no I'll get these." Robert said waving his hand in front of Aaron's.

Aaron fidgeted with his fingers the urge to leave and not be almost pitied by Robert's kindness. Instead Aaron leaned back on the chair and simply nodded as he watched Robert walk confidently towards the small bag before gesturing for two pints and passing over some coins. Whilst Robert waited for the man to pass him the pints, he tapped at the wooden surface of the bar and sighed slowly trying to contain the anxiousness he was feeling.

Robert glanced over at Aaron and felt overwhelmed with luck, he was actually spending the day with him again without having to rush home to Chrissie or lie to clients about the 'family crisis' he was going through. Robert felt himself smile but stopped as he thought about how troubled Aaron looked as he watched him from the bar, his face sad and lonely as he gazed out the window almost in search for something, anything. Instantly the urge to make Aaron realise he wasn't on his own made Robert dizzy, he needed to make Aaron know that after yesterday, especially after yesterday things would never be as bad again.

Robert walked back to the table carrying both drinks and smiling at Aaron as they both sipped away. The confidence Robert felt before was coming back as he sat opposite Aaron determined to make him think about the good times instead of dwelling on the past.

"I've missed this." Robert said leaning back and staring at Aaron with a flirtatious look in his eyes that didn't go unnoticed by Aaron who sat up and surprised himself by replying with, "Me too."

Robert smiled goofily as Aaron frowned,
"On second thoughts, since when did we ever meet up for drinks in some pub?" Aaron said leaning back and studying Robert's expression.

His face was growing redder as he shook his head, "You know what I meant!" He said playfully.

Aaron loved how easy it was to wind Robert up and decided it was way too fun to stop, “No sorry, care to elaborate slightly?"

Robert rolled his eyes and pressed forward on the table, "Being able to actually talk to you like this."

Aaron nodded his head, ignoring the greeness of Robert's eyes that nearly mesmerised him, "Things got in the way." He said plainly, it was short and to the point messily wrapping up the last few months where almost every conversation had resulted in a argument or an insult.

Robert nodded thankful for Aaron's vagueness, after all he was there to make Aaron feel better about things not worse, "Well I'm glad we can do this." Robert pointed at the table and the nearly empty pint glasses, "Have a drink without snapping at each other."

Aaron scoffed, "I wouldn't really call it snapping!"

Robert laughed before smiling as he watched Aaron fidget with his hair. Aaron looked up and automatically stopped deciding to hold his pint glass instead almost suddenly insecure.

"What?" Aaron said watching as Robert ripped his eyes away from him still smiling softly as he looked at his own pint.

"Nothing, it's just..." Robert pointed to Aaron's hair, it was slightly messy as the curls ran free from the heaps of gel used everyday, "Remember that time you stayed over for the week and I told you I lost the tub of gel you brought?"

Aaron sat wide eyed for a moment before laughing himself as he remembered the anger and frustration he felt as he looked through his bags and realised it had gone. The thought of going to work with his hair unkept and curly made him squeal feel like a school boy so when Robert told him it must have been lost, fear creeped up inside him. Aaron chuckled, "You waited for so long! I spent ages looking every where."

Robert bit his lip, "I know, I know!"

Aaron blinked softly remembering how happy he was back then. He remembered the way Robert made him feel better instantly even though he was still battling with the effects of the harsh running regime. Aaron gulped as he thought back to the fact that they had only been together because Chrissie had been away. It took persuading and lies for him to be happy yet he was so naive and in love that her involvement didn't even come into consideration.

It didn't matter back then, all that mattered was that in that moment Robert and him had the chance to be 'normal' as Robert had put it. The curly hair incident was just one example of how domesticated the pair had become and Aaron felt his heart race as he began to remember more.

The sound of Robert's voice dragged him away from his thoughts, "Anyways..." Robert looked up at Aaron "I always fancied ya when you when your hair was all curly and messy."

Aaron raised his eyebrows in surprise,
"Really?" he said pressing his empty glass to his lips.

Robert felt a wave of confidence wash over him as he admired Aaron's hair once more, "Yeah, it's pretty sexy if ya ask me."

Aaron raised his head as Robert saw the his blush grow and his eyes blink quickly almost trying to grasp exactly what he had meant. Robert looked out of the window suddenly fearful that what he had said was a tad too much, too forward and something that Aaron wasn't ready for.

Aaron smiled trying to hide his blush as he stood up and gestured towards the bar, "My round I think."

Chapter Text

As Aaron arrived back at the table he decided he needed to approach the elephant in the room. Joel. He hadn't asked Robert anything about him today, yet he felt as though he had tried a million ways to approach it.

Aaron sat down looking over at Robert,
"We had good times didn't we?" Robert asked him as he went to speak.

Aaron sat almost taken aback by the desperation in his ex lover's voice, as though he needed to hear his agreement. Aaron soon realised it was the guilt talking just like a few nights ago after Robert hurt his head. Robert had always needed this sense of approval and agreement from Aaron after something bad happened between them and now he was genuinely asking him if he thought that what they had was good as well as obviously bad.

Aaron thought about how to respond as instantly more fond memories flash before his eyes. He couldn't forget times when Robert and himself would spend hours in the barn talking about their aspirations in life and where they saw themselves. It was when Robert first opened up about his dreams that Aaron realised that he genuinely cared about the man he causally slept with:

Aaron shuffled slightly on the cloth that kept his naked body from the mountains of hay that cluttered the drafty barn,
"Did you always want to do what you do?" He asked watching as Robert turned to face him.

Robert smiled looking at Aaron and gently stoking his beard, "What sleep with sexy mechanics." He said smirking as Aaron poked him playfully.

"No! I mean your job." Aaron whispered as he buried himself in Robert's neck.

"Suppose so." Robert stoked Aaron's hair slowly, "Living on a farm I just didn't understand why I would want to carry on doing stuff I had to do when I was a kid."

Aaron titled his head so that he could see Robert better, “What like ... feed the horses and tag the sheep?" He said trying to understand.

Robert laughed loudly, “Yeah stuff like that. I wanted to see the world you know? See anything other than hay and farm animals. I was sick of it. Not Andy though gosh he loved it! Farming, it was like second nature to him."

Aaron heard the sadness in Robert's voice and looked up at him, "So? You weren't meant to be a farmer boy."

Robert chuckled again slowly, he had known Robert for a matter of months and yet he had said something in a way no one else had ever done. Simply explaining that it wasnt a bad thing that Robert was different.

"Don't think my dad would agree with ya." Robert said slowly, "Good thing he had Andy eh?"

"Yeah and he had you. it's not easy you know,making something of yourself after starting afresh. Trust me." Aaron said remembering how worthless he felt sometimes in France.

Robert noticed the sincerity in Aaron's voice but didn't choice to action on it, deciding that Aaron would open up about things when he wanted to.

"Thanks." Robert said looking down almost embarrassed about how honest he had just been and the support he had received from his secret gay lover.

"No worries." Aaron smiled before leaning towards Robert and hovering over his lips, "I still like you even if you talk clients instead of cows everyday." Robert smiled as he crashed his lips against Aaron's realising that Aaron's heart was pure and good.

"You'd be surprised about how similar they actually are!" Robert said breaking away and rolling his head back as he saw the lust in Aaron's face, deciding to launch back in Robert felt alive with passion as Aaron felt the butterflies explode out of his stomach dancing around in Robert's mouth deciding that Robert definitely meant more than casual sex, he was starting to care about him, care about his past and making him feel better. He was starting to fall for him.

The memory hadn't made it any clearer for Aaron but he still nodded in agreement as the guilt washed over him,
"Course we did." He said before touching the table and smiling shyly.

Robert bit down on his lip as he tried to contain the excitement that was growing inside him, the ridiculous optimistic view he had was only growing as Aaron fuelled the hope he possessed. Aaron wanted to tell the truth, he wanted nothing more than to just tell Robert that his feelings were unsure yet he was certain that the hateful negative feelings were fading away. Yet the sound of Robert's phone buzzing quickly cut Aaron off. Robert sighed loudly his heart beating as he peered down and wondered if Joel was trying to get ahold of him again. Robert smiled he had never been so happy to see Victoria's name pop up on his phone before, telling him that the hospital said Diane had taken a turn for the worse but it wasn't anything to worry about.

The doctors were already trying to find out the root of the problem. Robert frowned before tossing his phone to the side in an attempt to ignore the growing problems. Aaron looked at Robert, the thought of Joel causing more trouble weighed heavily on his mind.

 

^*^

 

"What's wrong?" Aaron asked after watching Robert rub his head slowly.

Robert looked up and blinked quickly suddenly wary of Aaron's reaction, the last thing he wanted was to increase Aaron's issues. He knew that the subject of Diane had previously caused them problems and as Robert stared at his ex lover he realised he couldn't risk another argument between them.

"Er, nothing — just Vic." Robert said murmuring.

"Vic? What does she know?" Aaron said leaning towards Robert and instantly fearing that Victoria somehow knew about last night.

"What?" Robert gulped hard trying his hardest to ease the anxiousness growing inside Aaron, "Nothing, she just heard me come in last night and —"

"And what? God I bet she thinks something's up between us." Aaron shouted rubbing his hands over his face and turning red. He couldn't risk Chas finding out about this, knowing that her brother was the master mind behind an idea to distract Robert from the truth. Aaron knew his mum, he knew that she would probably hate herself for putting her son in such a difficult position.

Robert tried to hide his sadness as he watched Aaron over think the words he had stated, the disgust in Aaron's voice had stung but he couldn't dwell on it. Not now.

"She doesn't!" Robert said raising his voice.

"Asking you if you were with me was she?" Aaron whispered.

"No!" Robert shouted his frustration growing. Aaron frowned before gesturing for Robert to continue, "It's Diane." He said sadly, dropping his own head to the floor, "She's got worse, Vic said it's nothing to worry about and that the doctors are already doing their best but still."

Aaron wanted to kick himself, the guilt he felt was rising dramatically as he looked at Robert's sad expression. He hated himself, knowing that he couldn't help him the way Robert had helped him last night. Yet he needed to do something, Aaron edged closed breathing in as he reached out for Robert's hand and held it tightly. Robert looked up and gazed at Aaron as he watched their fingers slide over each other and their eyes lock.

Aaron was the first to pull away, realising that he needed to make Robert feel better, "It might just be an infection, they're easy to pick up in hospitals."

Robert blinked softly admiring Aaron and touched by his words, "Yeah, yeah I think that's it.” He whispered. "I just feel like I can't do anything to help" he continued dropping his head to the floor.

Aaron frowned, "Of course you can, you are. You're going to the hospital and being there for Vic."

Robert scoffed, "Hardly, I'm not good at all that stuff."

Aaron gulped hard remembering the argument they had a couple of weeks ago when Aaron shouted horrible things at Robert telling him that he couldn't be there for Diane so he focused his attention elsewhere. He hated how badly the words were still effected Robert, they were firmly on his mind.

"What about yesterday eh? You were great." Aaron whispered smiling reassuringly.

Robert rolled his eyes, "Yeah but...but that was different —"

Aaron frowned, "Why?"

"Because I couldn't exactly leave ya could I?" Robert snapped instantly regretting his loud voice as he watched Aaron fall back on his chair and sigh. His words had come out all wrong, sound nasty and frustrated instead of hopeless and honest like he intended. Robert titled his head seeing Aaron's confusion grow into anger and sadness.

Aaron shook his head half laughing half shaking with anger as he realised how cutting Robert had been. The memory of yesterday suddenly became clouded with thoughts about Robert being almost obliged to stay with him out of pity.

"What so you only stayed because you felt like you couldn't leave?" Aaron said after rubbing his head slowly.

"No! No I — Aaron I didn't meant it like that. I just meant I had to make you feel better, there was no way I could have walked away when I saw it all unravel in front of me. But Diane, it's easy to avoid her, she's not everywhere I go like you are"

Aaron nodded his head slowly his anger decreasing rapidly as he saw how badly Robert was trying to convince him. Suddenly his guilt rose making him feel sick as he tried to stare away from Robert, all this pain and hurt Robert was feeling about Diane he knew was down to his mum.

Aaron bit his lip, "What are you afraid of?" He whispered causing Robert to release some tension in his shoulders.

"I dunno, it's just not easy for me. Last year, when I saw ya running yourself to death and I just — I wanted to reach out and help ya but I just couldn't. And then when I did you still ended up in hospital." Robert said feeling ashamed.

"That's not really the truth is it eh? Listen Diane needs you, now more than ever and I know that you can do it." Aaron said leaning over and cashing Robert to smile weakly.

Robert scoffed, "Really?"

"Yeah." Aaron said quickly. "Thanks it er that means a lot from you of all people." Robert said before sipping his pint and looking away innocently.

Aaron squirmed in his seat, "Me? Why?" he asked slowly.

"I didn't think you'd ever believe in me again." Robert ripped his eyes away from Aaron and felt embarrassed by his comment.

Aaron nodded and blushed brightly overcome with emotion as he realised the gravity of his words and how deeply they effected Robert's judgement. He hadn't really thought about his words in all honesty, he was solely trying to make Robert feel better and didn't realise that they would make Robert feel this way.

"I, well I do. You can do anything when you set your mind to it, especially if it's for someone you love." Aaron said this time biting his lip as she saw Robert gazing up st him. Robert swirled round and round the sentence in his head, secretly figuring out wether or not it meant something more, wether or not Aaron was in a way referring to the horrible things he had done in the past and giving Robert a reason for his actions. It shocked Robert as he tried to figure out why exactly Aaron would bother trying to justify Robert's actions when there was no point. There was no need.

"Aaron, I — I can't apologise enough for —"

"Don't." Aaron said desperately not wanting to hear Robert tell him he was sorry for everything, he was in a fragile state after yesterday and feared that he could be easily be swayed with Robert's sweet words. "Let's forget about that for now"

Robert sat back shocked that Aaron seemed to want to let go of all the bitterness for now, he was secretly relieved that Aaron was against any negative talk after Robert had tried his hardest to make things better for him.

Robert looked down and tried to make Aaron more comfortable, "I hope Diane's alright, I don't know what would happen if she didn't make it." He said running his hands through his hair before noticing Aaron's worried expression. Aaron was trying to keep it together not wanting Robert to become suspicious of his quick shift in mood.

"She's going to be fine." Aaron said eventually as he moved in closer and shook of his guilt and shame, "And you're gonna be glad that you were there when she finally gets to come home and it won't be long."

Robert sniffed embarrassed by his moment of weakness, as Aaron seemed unfazed by his emotions almost wanting him to let out all his emotions at once.

"Sorry. It’s just, I haven't given myself any time to actually think about it properly." Aaron coughed fighting back the tears he told himself were due to the guilt and fear he felt about Diane yet deep down he knew that the tears were for Robert, for the man who seemed so broken and confused by everything. Robert looked up at Aaron and saw his face redden, "Sorry, gosh you shouldn't have to put up with this!" Robert said before backing away and rubbing his face.

A part of Aaron wanted to shout 'of course I don't, you deserve to feel like this after everything you have done!' Yet he knew he didn't, he knew it wasn't true really. How could he agree with Robert after yesterday, after the kindness of Robert's touch and the softness of his voice as he listened to it all.

"You were there for me last night, I'll be there for you now." Aaron whispered as he watched Robert's shoulders ease.

 

Chapter Text

The quietness of the table resumed after Robert awkwardly got two more pints and waked back to the table. The silence had allowed Aaron to once again overthink the whole situation he found himself in, hating the trust Robert had so easily and how badly he wanted to make Aaron happy. He recalled the hope in his eyes and the way Robert had looked at him before, he was relying on Aaron and his support and the pressure Aaron was feeling began to double.

How could he do it? He felt sick thinking about the way he had reassured Robert earlier and comforted him about Diane when he knew full well who was to blame for her being there in the first place.

Robert coughed quickly catching Aaron's attention which was elsewhere,
"Never even heard of this place." He said trying his best to get the conversation flowing. Aaron needed to talk, he couldn't just shut of his emotions again. His ind was telling him to tell Robert the truth once and for all, he needed to let it all out again. The thought of things become as dark as they did the previous night was something that made Aaron double over in pain.

Aaron looked up and saw Robert smiling in his direction before staring out of the window, "Yeah well its er quite far out ain't it." He responded before sighing loudly and deciding that Robert's idea of small talk was making him feel even more anxious and guilty about his web of lies. "Listen Robert, there's something I have to say."

Robert bit his lip suddenly feeling nervous and anxious about what exactly Aaron was going to say, "You see —"

"Just spit it out Aaron." Robert said impatiently, "Don't worry." He said softer causing Aaron to smile awkwardly.
"Last night was, it was great..."

Robert almost winced as he sensed a massive 'but' coming. He was right.

"But I don't think I can do this." Aaron continued, moving away from Robert, overcome with the need to break away and leave Robert and his lies.

Robert felt his heart beating loudly, it was putting him on edge as he watched Aaron grow smaller into himself,
"Do what?" he said softly trying his best to out Aaron at ease.

'Pretend' Aaron thought to himself before deciding against the outburst.

Aaron waved his arm out in front of him,  "This..." He said pointing to the drinks, "Have drinks ... have fun and reminisce about the good old days when —"

"When what?" Robert blurted out without thinking.

'When I know it can't last' Aaron thought, shocking himself as he admitted the truth. He knew it couldn't last, the pleasantries would become a distant concept in a few week when Robert harshly realised that Aaron wasn't interested anymore. It was so unfair, the whole situation was unfortunate but Aaron couldn't allow himself to feel anything but guilt, he wasn't about to feel sorry for himself again not now. Ht of the confusion Robert would feel, the hurt and pain he would go through, he didn't deserve it. Even after everything that had happened, Aaron didn't want to be responsible for his pain.

Aaron sighed loudly realising this was his chance to admit the truth, to tell the truth about everything and make sure Robert was aware of his secrets. Aaron suddenly felt numb as he thought about his mum and Cain, the sorrow and despair his mum would feel and the anger and betrayal Cain would voice.

Deep down the dark thoughts circled his head,

'They'll never forgive you'

''Mum will go to prison for this.'

'The family will disown you'

'Robert will hate you'

'Adam will choose Victoria and he'll never trust you again'

Aaron shook his head intensely as he tried to push out the thoughts and realise that he couldn't ever tell Robert the truth. Not now. Not ever.

"When I'm just not ready for it all" Aaron lied trying his best to convince Robert.

Robert nodded his head slowly, "For this? For us to be like this?" Robert moved away from Aaron tentatively,  "Being friends?"

Aaron bit down on his lip it wasn't what he wanted to say really. He was dying to tell Robert the actual truth but he couldn't face Robert's reaction, not now. Aaron felt his heart race the innocence behind Robert's voice was making him feel sick with worry.

Aaron thought back to the way he knew little things about Robert fairly quickly like the way he only had tea when he felt sick or how his tie just had to be perfectly positioned before he headed out for a meeting as if the whole thing depended on it.

 

*^*

 

Aaron smiled as he remembered a particular time where he had felt something close to a friendship with Robert:

It was way back in April last year when Aaron was staying up at The White's, it was in that week where Aaron find himself truly allowing himself to imagine a future with the married man. The week had been filled with soft kisses, late rises and plenty of love making - enough to make Aaron feel fuzzy as the thought about how perfect it all was until news about Chrissie's reappearance managed to dampen the mood entirely. Robert had properly opened himself up to Aaron for the first time and even he was surprised by how normal it felt to be do domesticated with his secret lover. Aaron bit his lip as he remembered the moment where Robert had managed to make his heart leap with joy.

Aaron and Robert had been on their third game of FIFA when Robert fell back into a heap on the floor as he buried his head in his hands. He had lost miserably for the third time in a row and Aaron was reeling in the satisfaction that he had won against 'the mighty Robert

"Sorry but it looks like I've won again doesn't it?" Aaron said bending down and smirking at Robert who was now sighing loudly.

"Yeah well I'm distracted —"

Aaron scoffed loudly, "By what?"

Robert rolled his eyes and blinked slowly before smiling at Aaron. He loved how naive he was at times.

"You!" Robert said playfully poking Aaron's ribs, "You muppet!"

"Me?" Aaron began to chuckle before playing with his hoodie.

"Yeah. You stick your tongue out whenever you have the ball, you look well sexy." Robert said shyly before kissing Aaron's cheek softly.

Aaron blushed as he looked towards the screen and saw that they still had one more game to play if they wanted to.

"Want one more game?" Aaron said softly as he gazed at Robert.

Robert breathed in, "Yeah but promise not to distract me!"

"I can't help it if I'm sexy Robert." Aaron said cheekily as he pressed on the controller.

Robert rolled his head back and started to laugh, "Yeah well good thing I suppose, because if you weren't you'd be out of here by now!" He said playfully.

"Charming." Aaron said before pressing play on the game.

"Oi I wasn't ready mate!" Robert said grabbing Aaron's controller and laughing.

"Mate?" Aaron said curiously, Robert didn't say mate as often as Aaron did and was funny to see him try.

Robert turned and faced his lover,
"What?" He said before rubbing a hand through his hair lazily.

"Someone's picked up on the way I talk then..." Aaron said before reaching out and pulling Robert in closer. Robert blushed before burying his head in Aaron's neck embarrassed.

"Yeah whatever —" Robert said after kissing Aaron's neck tenderly causing his lover to smile, "And anyway it's really a compliment if you ask me."

Aaron frowned as he leaned over and took his controller from Robert's grip,
"Hmm ... oh yeah, how do you work that out then?"

"Well you're my mate." Robert said before pressing play on the game and watching as Aaron blinked wildly. It was odd to hear Robert speak so openly about his feelings even if he was just admitting he was a mate. Even after Robert had confessed his love it still hadn't really sunk in for Aaron yet. It felt weird for Aaron to realise that Robert saw him as more than just a lover. Aaron stared at his controller yet was too focused on Robert's words to be able to press the correct buttons. Robert was his mate and that meant so much more than anything else.

Maybe Robert didn't understand exactly how badly Aaron valued friendship, it was something that Aaron always wanted and need throughout his life, and now he had found it with Robert. Their week together made them both realise that their relationship had become so much more than hot messy sex and angsty break ups. They were mates, they respected, valued and cared for each other desparetly, sharing a true bond and friendship.

Aaron felt butterflies explode in his stomach as Robert scored a goal.

"Goal!" Robert said waving his arms around, "Yes Sugden!"

Aaron ripped his mind away from his thoughts, "Well done..." He said quickly.

"Betts up your game Livesy!" Robert said cheekily before looking back to the screen and retrieving the ball once more as the line "Well you're my mate" danced round in his mind. It was safe to say Aaron lost the game: 4-0 and Robert couldn't wait to celebrate.

 

^*^


Seeing Robert's expression grow more and more concerned Aaron allowed himself to pull away from his thoughts and realise that he was only confusing the man even more. 'Cain would love this' Aaron thought to himself before silently kicking himself angry that he had even allowed himself to entertain any sort of advantage from the situation he found himself in.

"I shouldn't have said that I just meant —“ Aaron said quickly.

Robert waved his arm around trying to stop Aaron from continuing,
"Don't be sorry. I'm not trying to be too forward, I just thought that after last night you could do with a laugh and a beer with someone who who cares."

Aaron felt his heart flutter as he smiled softly at Robert once again he was just saying all the right things. All the things that Aaron craved all those months ago. He hated himself, he was a terrible person.

"I know you were only tryna help I'm sorry." Aaron said quickly feeling stupid after his outburst.

"Hey." Robert edged closer to Aaron again, "I just said don't be sorry, not for anything." He whispered looking into Aaron's eyes and trying his best to assure him.

Aaron nodded slowly it almost felt as if Robert was telling him not to be sorry for all the lies he was telling and instantly Aaron felt slightly better. He felt almost forgiven in a round about way.

"Is it Joel?" Robert said after a few seconds of silence deciding that he could be the reason behind Aaron's sudden reluctance.

Aaron went to speak, wanting desperately to correct Robert and tell him that it was so much more but something stopped him, he hated how easily he could use Joel's history as an excuse for his ever changing moods. Blaming the sick man for the way he was behaving that being either quiet and shy or lashing out messily, using the past to justify and hide the guilt he felt in the present.

Aaron nodded slowly cashing Robert to tilt his head to the floor and sigh loudly.

"Listen Aaron I'll sort it." Robert said staring at Aaron and trying to melt away the tense atmosphere.

"How?" Aaron snapped allowing his true tense feelings to pour out, "Robert I don't want ya to get hurt!" he continued, feeling the anger boil up inside him as he imagined Robert getting hurt by Joel.

"Trust me okay, I'm not gonna do anything drastic." Robert said laughing.

"This isn't funny." Aaron said raising his head, “You just gonna ring him up and tell him what you know?"

Robert gulped hard trying to find the right words to say. He hadn't even worked out for himself what he was going to actually do yet he knew that Aaron needed reassurance more than anything.

"Just trust me, you'll be safe. I'll be safe and that's all that matters really eh." Robert said before leaning back.

"Yeah..." Aaron said nervously, "That's all that matters."

 

*^*

 

Soon the boys were in the way back to emmerdale much more merrier then when they first started off. Aaron felt completely relaxed as he rolled down the window in Robert's car and let fresh air invade the space. Things weren't right between them that was for sure but Aaron couldn't deny how comfortable their closeness was making him feel. It felt almost natural despite how badly he knew things would eventually turn out. Aaron shook his head deciding that the journey home wouldn't involve any guilty thoughts eating away at him.

"So how's business?" Aaron said before biting his lip and cringing at the question.

Robert took his eyes off the road for a second and allowed himself to stare into Aaron's eyes, touched by how Aaron was trying to make an effort.

"Er yeah I suppose it's going good, haven't lost any clients so far since —"

Robert turned back towards the road and sighed telling himself ths remembering the shooting wouldn't help. He had pushed the whole event to the back of his mind after finding out who was behind it all, he still felt sick whenever he even thought about Ross. Robert shook his head slowly as he thought about how easily Ross was able to pull the trigger and attempt to end his life.
Aaron gulped, the memories of the shooting filled his mind as he allowed himself to think back to the fateful night where things had changed forever.

"Yeah well..." Aaron nodded his head,  "Well I'm glad." He continued nodding and smiling brightly.

Robert glanced over to Aaron and saw the twinkle in Aaron's eyes he thought had long gone. Aaron frowned playfully as he looked back at Robert with a smile on his face, "What?" He said softly.

Robert coughed as he focused on the road embarrassed that Aaron had noticed him gazing and admiring his charming smile, "Nothing... I just can't remember the last time I saw you smile like that."

Aaron breathed in, "Yeah well I haven't had an awful lot to smile about lately." He whispered.

"Yeah well I have a feeling..." Robert looked over at Aaron and smiled before squinting back to the road "that things are gonna get better. Trust me" Robert said making Aaron feel queasy as he thought about how wrong Robert would be.

 

^*^

 

Ten minutes went by and Aaron gazed down at his phone quickly before biting his lip and realising Adam had tried calling him over the five times before leaving three messages. Aaron tapped away and opened one of the small direct messages which indicated Adam's anger.

You said you'd be in later. It's later.

Aaron couldn't help but laugh. Robert looked over at Aaron and almost had to catch his breath, seeing Aaron so happy and care free was rare nowadays and something to be cherished.

"Everything alright?" Robert said staring over at Aaron.

"Yeah just Adam. His rang me like six times and left messages." Aaron said playing with his phone in his hands.

Robert frowned before realising what the problem was, "Oh you said you'd go in later!" He said before laughing and playfully gasping. He smiled to himself, secretly relishing in the fact that he had spent time with Aaron instead.

"Ah I feel bad now." Aaron said laughing.

"Why? You had other things going on." Robert said cheekily referring to their secret pub meetings away from the nosy village.

"At lease he had Vic helping him." Aaron murmured playing with his coat.

Robert scoffed, "Vic? Imagine her dragging scrap onto the back of a van."

"Reckon she was probably in charge of the phone calls and brews!" Aaron said before staring at Robert and smiling.

As Robert pulled up to the pub Aaron quickly began looking around and seeing if anyone could see them. Robert bent his head down almost instinctively knowing that it wouldn't do either of them any good if they had been seen by anyone.

Aaron looked at his phone again and realised what the time was, "Six. Nearly seven? We were out for hours."

Robert nodded.

"It felt like it went quickly." Aaron said before unbuckling his seat belt.

"Well you know what they say about time and having fun eh?" Robert said cheekily as he winked at Aaron.

Aaron sighed before laughing, "I had fun today."

Robert felt his heart skip a beat happy that he had managed to make Aaron feel anything other than hopeless, "Same." He said leaning back on his seat.

Aaron nodded again before climbing out of the car and walking towards the pub. He stopped for a minute allowing himself to stare back and admire Robert from a distance before stepping inside the pub and leaving Robert lost for words as he tried to make sense of their sort of date.

Chapter Text

The next morning started of badly for Aaron as he was awoken by the sound of Chas' yelling telling him that he had to help with a delivery. Begrudgingly Aaron agreed racing down the stairs and meeting his mum who was gripping a box of beer as another man held out a receipt. He was about Aaron's average, taller than him and with bluer eyes sporting a rather messy hair cut as well as a rugged beard. The man had a certain twinkle in his eye that made Aaron suddenly feel anxious about what he was wearing. His grey hoddie and joggers weren't exactly pleasing.

"This is the new delivery guy." Chas said still clutching the boxes.

Aaron ripped his eyes away from him,
"What happened to Simon?"

"Broke his leg apparently, poor bloke happened around Christmas I think!" Chas said chatting away as Aaron felt delivery man's eyes study him.

"And you are?" Aaron said turning his attention towards the man again.

"Jamie." The man said before coughing and smirking at Aaron, as if he was trying to send off a certain vibe that Aaron wasn't reading into.

Aaron nodded his head, "Aaron, her son." he said pointing to Chas before picking up a crate of beer and walking past Jamie and into the cellar.

The sound of his phone nearly made Aaron drop the crate suddenly, as Aaron stared down at it he realised that it was Adam wondering if he was wanted a coffee at the cafe. Aaron sighed wondering to himself if Adam would want to have an argument about his 'illness' yesterday and why he didn't come in for the afternoon.

Yet the sound of his mum's high pitched giggles coming from the back room made it clear for Aaron that he needed to leave. Aaron walked back into the back room before picking up his wallet and keys and turning towards his mum who was twirling her hair round and gazing at Jamie.

"Mum wanna put ya tongue away there." Aaron whispered before rolling his eyes at his mum.

Jamie laughed before waving his arms in front of him, "Not really my type." He said before smiling.

Chas tutted loudly, "I'm not that old!" She shouted before pointing at Aaron, "Is it 'cos I got a kid, 'cos I had him when I was young."

Aaron rolled his eyes again completely embarrassed by his mum's antics.

"Yep...I'm sure ya did I'm just not really-" Jamie said fighting the urge to laugh again.

Aaron frowned before looking at Jamie questionably.

"Yeah alright we get it."

Jamie blinked quickly before signing the last bit of paperwork and handing it to Chas, "Maybe one day eh?" He said to Chas who was now bright red. "After I'm over kissing boys." He said before winking and walking out of the pub.

Aaron laughed loudly as his mum tried to keep herself together, mortified that she had spent the last half an hour flirting with a gay guy.

"Right I'm off!" Aaron said after a few minutes of teasing.

The air was milder than Aaron had expected as he walked towards the cafe and saw Robert up ahead. He felt a weird feeling inside his stomach as he saw how well rested and comfortable he looked, knowing that he hadn't spoken to Joel yet.

"Hiya." Aaron said walking towards Robert and noticing his beaming smile.

"Hey..." Robert whispered back fidgeting with his coat.

"You going anywhere?" Aaron said staring at Robert and hoping it wasn't anything to do with Joel.

"Er yeah I am actually...I'm going to see Diane." Robert said looking down at the floor and then back at Aaron.

Aaron stood wide eyed as he felt a surge of pride charge through his body, he was grateful that Robert had actually listened to him yesterday, almost touched by Robert's actions.

"Really?" Aaron said eagerly. Robert nodded. "Rob that's...that's really good!" Aaron continued before playfully shoving Robert's shoulder and watching a smile form on Robert's face.

"After yesterday...it just sorta made sense ya know." Robert said trying to hide his blush.

"You going with Vic?" Aaron asked.

Robert shook his head causing Aaron to frown, “No...no I'm gonna go alone." He whispered.

"You sure that's okay with you?" Aaron said quickly looking at Robert's anxious expression.

"Yeah...yeah I'll be fine." Robert said smiling and trying his best to hide the nervousness he felt. Robert blinked quickly feeling ridiculously stupid, it was Diane at the end of the day.

As Aaron went to speak he heard Victoria's door slam shut and Adam walk our and across to where he and Robert were standing. Robert rolled his eyes before moving away as he poor Adam to say a few damning words.

"He giving you a hard time?" Adam said to Aaron as he pointed at Robert.

Aaron hesitated before moving away slightly, "Er...no it's fine."

"Anyways I'll ... er just go. " Robert said before walking away. Aaron couldn't help but want to race up to Robert and wish him luck yet Adam's snide comments were enough to make him stay.

Aaron hated how badly he couldn't relax in the cafe, he was permanently on edge as he tried to listen to Adam yapping on about difficult customers and the pile of work he had to get through.

"You actually listening to me?" Adam asked irradiated by Aaron's quietness.

Aaron shook his head in an attempt to declutter his mind and focus on Adam,
"Yeah ...course." He said leaning up and staring at Adam.

"Well quit day dreaming we gotta get back to the scrap yard in a bit." Adam said chugging down his coffee.

Aaron sighed thankful of the distraction that came with sitting in that little porta cabin filing through orders.

"Er...yeah."

"Seen as I had to do it all myself yesterday." Adam murmured causing Aaron to roll his eyes.

"Mate I'm sorry alright I just wasn't up for it." Aaron said feeling guilty as he imagined Adam having to do all their work.

"Up for it? Mate this isn't a trip to the pictures, it's our business." Adam snapped.

Aaron bent his head in frustration causing Adam to feel bad about his harsh tone. He was aware of the stress Aaron was under from home and yet he still had managed to pile on more pressure.

Adam reached out his hand playfully before pinching Aaron softly and making him smile, "Forget about it eh?"

Aaron nodded he loved how easy his friendship was with Adam, they could squabble over things and then subtly apologise with a quick nudge to the head and a smile. It was uncomplicated and just how Aaron wanted everything else to be.

Another ten minutes rolled by and the tension had decreased causing Aaron to ease into his chair, "Urgh you'll never guess what my mum did this morning." he said cringing as he spoke.

Adam sipped at his coffee, "What?" 

"She was flirting with this new delivery guy and...he only turned out to be gay!" Aaron said laughing as he watched Adam's reaction.

"No way!" Adam said before leaning over the table, "Did he let her down gently?"

Aaron nodded before biting his lip.

Adam traced the rim of his coffee mug before deciding to push in the subject,
"What was his name?"

"Jamie." Aaron said before looking down at his phone.

"Jamie eh?" Adam said arching his eyebrows and gesturing to his best friend.

Aaron rolled his eyebrows and scoffed,
"Give over!"

The pair fell into a fit of laughter as Adam continued to make small little hints as they sipped away at their coffees. For some reason Aaron felt a blush grow on his complexion, maybe it was all the unwanted attention. He didn't like this guy, he didn't know him and he certainly wasn't going to give anyone the ammunition to make something out of nothing.

Suddenly Victoria barged in with her hands on her hips looking at her husband and friend sitting comfortably.

"Oh so all is forgiven then?" Victoria said quickly before shaking her head.

Aaron frowned before turning to Adam,
"What she on about?"

"You! Thought you were supposed to be helping at the scrap yard in the afternoon. I had to phone Marlon and tell him I'd be late." Victoria snapped.

"Why?" Aaron said before leaning back.

"Well I couldn't exactly leave him in the lurch could I." She said before tousling her husband's hair and sliding in next to him.

Adam rolled his head back, "Vic! C'mon it's over now." He said before his phone began to vibrate and he quickly picked it up to answer. "Hello?" he said before moving outside so he can hear better.

Victoria glared over at Aaron suspicious as to where exactly he was yesterday. When she heard Robert come from the door last night she hadn't exactly asked him where he was either as she absent mindedly asked if he wanted anything to eat. The whole morning her mind had been working overtime as she desperately wanted to find out who her brother was with. Then it clicked, Aaron hadn't been feeling well yesterday and somehow they both managed to have time to meet.

"Why ya looking at me like that?" Aaron said the guilt surfacing on his face.

Victoria shrugged her shoulders, "No reason." She said shyly as she looked towards the floor.

Aaron bit his lip, "There obviously is one. Spill." He snapped sick of her little looks.

Victoria sighed deciding that she needed to be sure, "Okay.” She said before leaning over. "Yesterday. Were you with Robert?"

Aaron sat wide eyed wondering how exactly she had come to that conclusion,
"What?"

"And before ya lie and say you were at home in bed all day don't." Aaron gulped hard "I spoke to Chas just now and she reckons you spent all day at work, you even got back later than expected"

Aaron rolled his eyes realising that he couldn't worm his way out of Victoria's questioning.

"Robert was gone all day yesterday, didn't come back until late. I know I should be but I'm worried about him, about who his with and the thought of him sleeping around with randoms to get over Chrissie, to get over you —"

Aaron rubbed his head before waving his hand out and silencing Victoria,
"Okay fine!" He said suddenly falling back into his chair.

"Fine what?"

"Robert. I was with him yesterday." Aaron whispered as he saw the relief flush over Victoria's face. She wasn't exactly overjoyed knowing that their relationship must have been pretty on and off before it was revealed, yet she couldn't help but feel happy knowing that Robert had the comfort of Aaron instead of some stranger.

"What you two —" Victoria started making gestures with her hands causing Aaron to cringe and squirm in his chair.

"No! Vic God stop! It wasn't like that. He just wanted to chat that's all." He wasn't lying, nothing scandalous had actually happened no matter how badly Robert or him wanted it to.

"About what?" Victoria began to panic "is he okay?" she continued as he recalled the past few weeks and how quiet and alone her brother had appeared.

Aaron reached out over the table and held Victoria's hand, something he hadn't done for years. Victoria looked up touched by the rare closeness of her and Aaron, fully aware of the fact that he hardly ever did such things.

"It was about Diane." He said gazing at vic before pulling away and seeing her confused expression.

"Diane?" Victoria said causing Aaron to nod "what about her?"

"Her being in hospital, getting stabbed in the first place, he dosent know how to be there for her." Aaron said before blinking slowly as the realisation he hit once again.

Victoria thought for a minute remembering all the times her brother had hurried off or tried to think of something to say to Diane.

"It makes sense."

"Yeah and when you text him saying that she was having a set back he just felt even worse. Knowing that he wasn't being there for her like he should."

"And what did you say?" Victoria said biting her lip.

Aaron sighed, "I just told him that things would be okay I guess, that he could be there for her."

Victoria smiled making Aaron look down shyly before questioning his friend once more, "What?"

"You're a good friend." She whispered before winking at him. Aaron shook his head knowing that it wasn't true, knowing that he wasn't a good friend at all. He was lying to everyone he had done since that night, that night when his mum had changed things forever.

Victoria leant back on the seat before sighing, "Well let's just hope he listened."

Aaron nodded eagerly, "Looks like it. I saw him heading off to the hospital before."

Victoria squealed with delight as he clapped her hands and almost beamed with pride, "Really?" She couldn't believe the effect Aaron had in her brother, it was crazy.

"Yeah but don't make a fuss yeah? He dosent wasn't it to be a big deal." Aaron whispered well aware of Victoria's emotions getting the better of her sometimes.

"Yeah course." She said before smiling brightly again.

Aaron's heart raced as he began to imagine Victoria letting it all slip to Adam, "Oh and Vic don't mention any of this to Adam either."

Victoria frowned, "Why not?"

Aaron sat wide eyed, "Why not? Because every one round here still hates Robert. I still —" Aaron stopped himself before he contended and decided to calm down. "If my mum finds out I was secretly going off and having drinks with him, helping him out and listening to his issues, it's gonna cause problems.” He continued as his breathing got worse.

"Alright. Alright okay I won't" Victoria said causing Aaron to instantly breathe a sigh of relief.

Adam walked back into the cafe and Aaron moved back mouthing a thank you for Victoria before she rolled her eyes and kissed Adam, "What did I miss?" He sighed as he sat next to his wife.

Aaron shrugged his shoulders as Victoria smiled at Adam. Aaron hated all the lies, and as he looked over Victoria he couldn't help but feel guilty knowing that she would have to lie to her husband now.

 

*^*

Robert walked up to Diane's hospital room as his stomach churned, a part of him wished that Aaron was there with him holding onto his hand and telling him that things would be fine with Diane. Suddenly a nurse walked towards him stopping as she saw the worried expression on his face.

"Are you a relative of Mrs Sugden?" She  asked innocently staring at Robert.

Robert looked back at the woman who was probably in her late twenties, long dark black hair with brown eyes and a warm smile.

"Er yeah. Robert. Her stepson." He said smiling awkwardly, "How is she after yesterday?"

"She's doing good, she's still a bit restless but that's normal" Robert blinked slowly as relief washed over him "if she keeps this up then she'll be able to come out by next week"

Robert ran his fingers through his hair,
"Really? Are ... are you sure?"

The nurse nodded and Robert was thankful for her support, she wasn't mocking him for his worries instead she was simply reassuring him.

"Thanks." He whispered before the nurse patted his shoulder and walked towards the next ward.

Robert titled his head so he could see Diane perfectly through the small glass window. Thankfully she was awake, sitting comfortably on her bed as she flicked through an old magazine Victoria had given her. Robert entered slowly, instantly causing Diane to smile as she saw him. Suddenly Robert felt nervous as he realised that stared over at the cards and flowers and realised he hadn't got her anything.

"Sorry I —"

"Don't be daft!" Diane said quickly noticing Robert's rather guilty expression.  "They're mostly from people who can't be bothered to actually show up!"

"Yeah..." Robert whispered before awkwardly sitting down on the red chair near Diane's bed. "About that...I'm sorry for...for not coming as often"

Diane nodded before smiling weakly, "I know you are, I can see it in your eyes" Diane squinted, "You're worried?"

Robert shook his head before biting his lip and given in,
"Well...yeah! Vic rang me yesterday, said that you hade a set back-"

Diane waved her hand in the air, "It was nothing pet, just a few breathing difficulties."

Robert felt a rush of relief travel through him eagerly as he realised that Diane wasn't in any danger,
"Thank god" Robert frowned "I still should have been here for you. Earlier."

Diane smiled softly before reaching out a hand and holding onto Robert,
"You're here now. You've never been really good with chat anyway, and I know you care. That's all that matters." Diane said before winking at Robert.

Robert fell back on his chair with ease as he realised that Diane understood, just like Aaron had understood yesterday. He felt finally content after days of being on edge and distracted by Joel and his sick vendetta against Aaron. Soon their mindless chatter turned into something more as Diane began to skirt round a familiar subject.

Robert's love life.

"So what have I missed?" Diane said eagerly, "Anything going on with you?"

Robert gulped hard before sighing and realising that he couldn't exactly tell Diane about his dodgy investigator and his feelings for Aaron, not when he didn't even understand them properly himself.

"Not much." Robert said shaking his head, "Few more business clients actually." He said trying his best to change the subject away from his personal life.

Diane arched her eyebrows and smiled,
"Have you heard anything from Chrissie or..."

Robert scoffed it was hilarious to see Diane try to find out what was happening in his life. A few months ago Robert would be oh so eager to delve into his feelings about Chrissie, confessing his undying love towards her and how he plans to win her back. Yet now the entire thing seemed ridiculous, it had been weeks since Robert had even thought about her properly.

No one mentioned her in the village, no one mentioned her family at all, they weren't exactly 'loved' by anyone so it seemed to suit Robert fine. And even now as Diane innocently mentioned her name it almost seemed alien to me, how bad was that? The mention of his own wife's name felt odd and unnatural, the feelings weren't there anymore.

Even on nights where he felt alone and tried of being that way he hardly ever thought of her. Yes he thought of the life he had, remembering the flash cars and posh dinners but his mind rarely turned to his wife and when it did he felt a tight knot got in his stomach as he allowed himself to remember the good times at the start. The times were they truly were madly in love even though Robert never allowed himself to fully fall for her.

Everything seemed different as he remembered the way he used to pine after her, spending countless nights denying his feelings for Aaron. It almost felt as if a wave of smoke had clouded his better judgment back then and only now could he realise how wrong he had been to ever think they could last when he was so clearly deeply and undeniably in love with someone else.

"Er...no.” He said laughing nervously and beginning to wondering who the 'or' was about. Then it hit him as he rolled his eyes, "And before you say anything about —"

"Aaron." Diane said quickly before instantly regretting her words and feeling nervous about Robert's reaction.

Robert coughed, "Yep."

"There's nothing going on then?" Diane said softly.

"No, we're civil so —"

"Good, I'm glad." Diane said shifted slightly on the bed, "Aaron's a nice lad. Always has been."

Robert's heart raced he loved it when other people complicated his ex lover it just showed how loved he was by others and how badly he was admired by people.

"It was the nice lad that managed to persuade me to come here. I was worried."

Diane raised her eyebrows, "Did he now?"

"Yeah ... sends his best." Robert smiled.

"See. Lovely lad." Diane said softly.

Diane looked at the smile her step son had on his face and she felt her heart flutter as she saw the obvious love he still had for Aaron.

"Robert." Diane craned her neck as she watched Robert break away from his day dream and cough awkwardly.

"Yeah..."

"It wouldn't, it wouldn't be a problem if you and him were —"

"We're not." Robert said struggling to accept his feelings for Aaron was always something he faced, and here he was again. Robert told himself it was because of Aaron's confusion and the added pressure that would make him vulnerable to Robert's charms, he told himself that in a few weeks time Aaron wouldn't need him anymore and so there was no point thinking about their future when they certainly didn't have one.

Diane sighed before edging closer and shuffling her weight.

"Eh be careful will ya." Robert whispered as he steadied Diane.

Diane rolled her eyes before smiling,
"God you sound just like Doug."

Robert smiled as he watched Diane stare at him with a hint of proudness in her eyes. "What?" Robert asked her.

"You don't need to be defensive about him. I know you and I know you probably still have feelings for him." Robert went to speak before being cut off by Diane who wasn't quite finished, "I'm not forcing ya to admit anything love, but I just want you to be happy."

Robert dropped his head realising that Aaron made him happy like no one else ever did, he made him feel this warm gooey happiness that Chrissie or Katie or any other lover made him feel. It was terrifying as Robert thought about it more, the thought of opening his heart to someone like Aaron. Someone who knew him well, someone who trusted him with secrets no one else knew.

"And what if I did, he dosent feel that way anymore." Robert whispered slowly allowing Diane to lean in closer.

"Well — well that's up to him isn't it." Diane said quickly trying to calm Robert's nerves.

"Yeah...yeah I suppose." Robert nodded before ripping his eyes away and coughing again, "Anyway enough about me, where is dull Doug whisking you off to when you break out of here?"

The conversation flowed nicely for another fifteen minutes and Robert was grateful that the attention had stayed fully in Diane and her health. He was able to relax and actually have a good chat with Diane that didn't revolve around Andy and his kids and his grief over Katie or Victoria and Adam's latest bust up. He was just able to be himself and let the walls down just like he did with Aaron, the feeling was familiar and almost inviting as Diane asked him more questions and he answered truthfully.

After the the fifteen minutes Robert finally raised to his feet and said his good byes knowing that although Diane told him that she was doing well, her tired expression told him otherwise.

"Get some rest yeah..." Robert said slowly as he recalled the last time he had uttered the words, to Aaron the other night. The circumstances were obviously different yet Robert couldn't help but feel dragged back into the memory of Aaron at his lowest.

"Course I will." Diane said nodding quickly.

"I'll be back tomorrow alright? I'll bring along Vic" Robert said raising Diane's spirits slightly as she perked up.

"You sure?" She said eagerly. "No pressure like."

Robert blinked softly before answering,
"Yeah I'm sure." He said realising that Diane was more important than cancelling the investigation with some creep.

Robert walked out of Diane's room and watched her head almost instantly hit the pillow and her eyes flutter with tiredness. The sound of approaching footsteps filled Robert's eyes and for a minute the thought of seeing Aaron made him smile to himself.

Robert turned around in order to greet the stranger and felt his heart drop as he realised that it wasn't Aaron.

Chapter Text

"Fancy seeing you here." Joel said smiling sickly as he held onto a bunch of files that seemed to have nothing to do with the case at all.

Robert felt sick just looking at him as his mind raced back to the things Aaron had told him the homophobic attitude that he obviously still had. Robert didn't know what to say, he wanted to punch him and tell him to get lost but he couldn't. Not now, not in a hospital. Robert bit his lip hard as he remembered the concern Aaron had for him, the deep worry he felt as he told Robert not to do anything to rash. Robert had to stay calm, it was the only way for now.

"Well Diane's here so..." Robert said cuttingly, thankfully Joel was too wrapped up in his folders to actually realise the harshness in his voice.

"Course." Joel said before nodding and peering forward to see into her room. Robert walked in front of Joel quickly and blocked his view suddenly feeling protective against Diane.

"What are you doing here?" Robert snapped.

"Well you haven't really told me anything lately." Robert gulped hard as he saw the disappointment grow in Joel's face, "So I had to see Diane for myself." Joel continued.

Robert felt his heart race, "She's she dosent know anything about you! No one does, you can't just barge in here and ask her questions she'll get suspicious."

Joel scoffed, "Relax will ya!"

Robert ripped his eyes away from Joel, the greenness was making him squirm with disgust.

"How did you even get in here?" Robert whispered harshly.

"Apparently I'm your brother." Joel said before winking. Robert shook his head as he edged away from Joel who was now playfully smiling at him, the lie was making him feel sick as he imagined Joel strolling through the hospital trying to keep up the whole 'I'm trying to help find the culprit' when in reality Joel was only trying his hardest to pin the blame on Aaron or anyone he was close to.

"So..." Joel gestured towards the hospital room door. "You gonna let me in or what?"

Robert shook his head, "Er no. No she's tired not now." Joel sighed loudly and Robert felt the need to elaborate in order to make it all seem more normal even though he wished he didn't have to spend a minute more in Joel's company, “She had a set back yesterday."

Joel moved away and clutched the folders in his hands, "Oh right. Is she okay?"

Robert nodded he hated how concerned Joel was trying to be when deep down he was probably angry that he couldn't try and pull information from Diane that would make Aaron look guilty.

"Listen you look like you're busy." Robert waved over the folders, "So just...I'll ring you later...we need a chat anyway." Robert said almost spitting the words out.

"I've got time for a quick coffee..." Joel said before gesturing towards the canteen.

Robert rolled his head back - the thought of spending anymore time with Joel was making him feel sick.

"I —" Robert said before realising that he would have to tell Joel to stay away soon anyway. "Yeah okay."

Ten minutes later and Robert found himself sitting down opposite the man who caused Aaron so much harm in the past.

"So does Diane remember much else?" Joel said eagerly.

"No." Robert said bitterly, "No not much."

"That's a shame." Joel said frowning.

"Why? What did you want her to say?" Robert snapped before frowning and trying to show his confusion even though he knew that Joel would have loved for Diane to remember seeing Aaron.

Joel smiled and shrugged his shoulders,
"Dunno, anything I suppose."

Robert smiled menacingly before looking at the papers spread out on the small table, suddenly Robert saw Aaron's folder and felt a flush of anger race through him.

"Looks like you still think you've got your man though eh?" Robert said bitterly staring at Aaron's name.

Joel bit his lip, "I'm almost certain of it —"

Robert scoffed deciding that he couldn't handle Joel trying to justify his obvious vendetta against Aaron.

"Listen, I think I should put an end to this." Robert snapped causing Joel to sit back.

"What? You mean this?" Joel said pointing to the folders in front.

"I've just seen my step mum lying there, she's gonna get better and I've missed seeing her make those steps, because I've been too determined to find out who put her there."

"You're doing the right thing, you're finding out the truth."

Robert raised his head, "Yeah well maybe the truth isn't that important."

Silence filled the air as Joel sighed and gathered his papers leaving Robert sitting back on his chair lazily.

"Listen. Don't make any rash decisions okay?" Joel said tilting his head towards Robert who could hardly look at him anymore, "I'll be in touch yeah..."

Robert shook his head and sighed deeply as he watched Joel walk away. He hated how Joel still seemed to have an essence of confidence in his tone as if he knew that Robert wasn't being serious.

Robert got up from his seat and felt the need to tell anyone about Joel. Robert sighed as he realised that Diane was nearby and he would be able to offload to her, Robert walked back towards her room before ruffling his hair and smiling as he turned towards Diane's room and saw her sleeping peacefully, completely unfazed by the conversation that had taken place just outside her room. It wouldn't be fair to wake her up from her well needed rest.

Robert felt his heart beat loudly as he thought about having to ring Joel and arrange something to make sure that he was definitely no where near the case anymore. He decided that he couldn't face it. As Robert ripped his eyes away from Diane's hospital room he carefully looked at his phone before admiring a picture he had saved of Aaron months and months ago. Before the cruel revelations and anger blurred their relationship and Aaron hadn't been effected by his lies just yet.

It held so many memories and so much meaning as Robert blinked quickly taking in the image that he hadn't allowed himself to see for months. Robert felt his heart race as he gazed down at Aaron in the image, sleeping so peacefully as if nothing was wrong in the world. Robert had taken it at their first hotel visit, after hours of crazy sex and countless kisses the boys were finally tired enough to lie back lazily and forget about the rest of the world. Robert smiled weakly as he allowed himself to think back:

"That. Was." Robert panted as he tried to catch his breath, he couldn't believe how amazing Aaron had been.

"What?" Aaron said resting his head on Robert's chest and staring at him with a worried expression. Something inside of Aaron made him feel nervous about what exactly Robert was going to say next after all Robert was an engaged man and so him confessing any sort of feelings always made Aaron feel anxious.

Robert played with Aaron's hair slowly,
"Incredible." He whispered playfully in Aaron's ear before kissing him.

"Really?" Aaron said before catching his breath and deciding to tease Robert to try and ignore the compliment he had just received.

Robert nodded eagerly, "Yeah." He said before slouching down in the large bed, "But now I think I need a power nap after all that..." Aaron bit his lip as he watched Robert slide down into the covers and pat the mattress signalling for Aaron to join him.

"I could do with a bit of rest too, you've well and truly worn me out Sugden." Aaron said before lying next to Robert and leaning over, "For now."

Robert felt his insides burst as Aaron winked at him cheekily. The rare moment of admiration for his lover was cut short by the sound of his phone ringing, Robert sighed hard as he picked it up and looked at who it was.

Robert breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that it was a client from work and not his fiancé, then came the guilt. The very fact that Robert was actually dreading a call from his own wife was enough to make him feel guilty and low. The sound of Aaron's voice settled the panic as he quickly turned to face his lover who's face already seemed disappointed.

"Let me guess 'family emergency'" Aaron mumbled before looking towards the sheets and shaking his head.

Robert frowned before realising that Aaron had expected the call to be Chrissie just as much as he did. Once again Robert felt a sharp stabbing pain as the guilt of making Aaron unhappy ate away at him allowing Robert to feel torn.

"Er..." it was the only thing he could say.

Suddenly Aaron raised from the bed and walked towards the bathroom, "Hey listen..." Aaron said turning to face Robert "no worries yeah, we can do this another time" he said waving his arms about madly.

Robert gulped hard as he saw how badly Aaron was trying to hide his pain and hurt for his benefit, it was typical of Aaron to bottle his feelings up and think about others. Robert hated how badly it made him feel about himself. Yet Robert couldn't help but feel touched by his lover's efforts.

"It wasn't Chrissie." Robert said loudly as he heard Aaron start to pack things away.

Aaron frowned slowly as he looked at Robert who was now smiling at him, "But I thought —"

"Yeah well so did I. That's why I didn't really say anything, I was shocked that it wasn't and I started you know..."

"Feeling guilty." Aaron said edging closer, and trying to comfort Robert. A part of him wanted to kick himself thinking about how much he cared for Robert, this man who could so easily lie to people he loved, how could Aaron feel sorry for this man who was using him so badly?

"Something like that." Robert said before chewing his gum and rolling his eyes, "Hey let's forget about that though yeah..." Aaron walked slowly back to the bed and into Robert's arms, "I'm not going anywhere."

Aaron hated how the words made him feel, the simple reassurance from his lover was enough to make him settle into a deep sleep.

Robert woke up before Aaron, only an hour after they had shut their eyes. He couldn't rest, not fully. Not even when Aaron was wrapped around his body gently breathing as he feel asleep, Robert's mind was working overtime and he couldn't make it stop. Robert turned to Aaron and smiled, he was facing him and Robert could hear him breathing softly as he wondered if Aaron was dreaming. Robert blinked slowly as he admired Aaron's hair all messy and curly, soft to the touch and of course gel free

He edged closer and began to stare at Aaron's long eyelashes and plump lips, all of a sudden Robert felt overwhelmed with the need to press against them and kiss Aaron gently. Yet he couldn't disturb his sleep, he looked way to peaceful.

Robert felt his heart ache as he allowed himself to think about how different things could be if Chrissie wasn't around. The thought of being only Aaron's filled his mind as he smiled and childishly pretended that him and Aaron were a couple and they were merely waking up next to each other on a Sunday morning, like any ordinary couple.

The thoughts overwhelmed Robert entirely and he instantly felt the need to capture the special memory and save it for himself. Robert quietly reached for his phone before unlocking it and opening up his camera, Robert titled his head slightly before taking a photo of Aaron sleeping soundly next to him. It was precious he thought as he blinked slowly and put his phone back down, there and then Robert promised himself that whenever he doubted himself or his feelings for Aaron, feelings which he didn't even understand yet, he would stare at the picture and make sure he remembered the sleepy Angel that rested next to him.

Robert rubbed his eyes and put away his phone heading towards the exit of the hospital and forcing himself to forget about the memory. He needed to focus on Joel and more importantly Diane. Yet Aaron of course was still on his mind.

Chapter Text

After one more coffee and one too many touchy feely moments between Adam and Victoria they boys decided or a drink of something stronger and followed Victoria into the pub as her shift started. Theirs plans to knuckle down and work flat out at the scrap yard were shattered as the prospect of large pint took priority.

Aaron was thankful for this day spent drinking with Adam and making fun out of Victoria's passion for cooking, it was normal and nearly made him forget about the absolute mess of his life at the moment. Chas caught Aaron's eye and smiled weakly as he walked across the bar and sat in a booth with Adam, Chas was beaming inside as she realised just how strong and together Aaron was being after having to hide this massive secret that could destroy everything.

Chas slowly closed her eyes as she thought back to the cries she heard from her son's room the night it all happened. She remembered the ache in her chest as she slowly entered his room and felt a desperate need to comfort him like a child, she was still panicked and not well herself but she didn't care about any of that. Not really. Not now she could see her son falling apart over her secret, a secret that could destroy him. Chas edged closer into his room and softly patted his back as he tried his hardest to fight back the tears.

"Love." Chas whispered as she continued to rub his back.

Aaron quickly walked away from his mum overwhelmed with shame as he realised that his mum didn't need to feel any worse about herself, "I'm fine..." Aaron said slowly rubbing his eyes and sighing as he looked out onto the village.

"No your not..." Chas said softly as she began to fight back her own tears, she couldn't believe what she had done to Diane, what she had done to her own son.

Aaron stared down at his hands that were trembling still, he had rubbed away the blood stained on them yet he could still trace where it had rested messily. Aaron ripped his eyes away from them and back towards the village, and then his eyes fell on the cottage ahead. Victoria's cottage.

His heart began to race as he imagined the fear and confusion they must have all felt as they travelled to the hospital. He even allowed himself to think of Robert. The man who he would always hate, but now felt slightly sorry for. His heart felt heavy with guilt as he heard his mum sob on his bed as she clutched at his sheets.

Almost instantly Aaron realised that he needed to be strong for her, "Hey listen." Aaron said softly walking over to his bed and gripping her hand, "It's going to be okay."

Chas shook her head, "How?" She snapped. "I stabbed Diane Aaron, I stabbed her.” She whispered.

Aaron bit his lip and forced back the tears, "Yeah I know...I know but we're gonna get through this okay. Trust me." he said trying his best to reassure his mum and almost blind her from the possibility that someone would find out. Chas looked up at her son and smiled weakly, she couldn't believe how brave he was being, it was her job to reassure him not the other way round.

Chas smiled softly, "My brave little boy." she whispered as she watched Aaron wipe away his tears.

"It's gonna get better mum." Aaron's whispered back, "Just try and keep strong for me yeah..."

Chas nodded her head and fell into Aaron's arms as he stroked her hair and told her things would be okay and that he would keep her safe.

Chas pulled away from the memory as she heard Aaron chuckle and slurp away at his pint. Then she caught sight of Victoria and sighed deeply. Some days Chas thought it was just better to tell everyone the truth, knowing that Diane would be okay was something she was grateful for and a small part of her wondered if her good health would be enough to silence the outrage of the family as she told them the truth.
The thoughts were often snatched away by Cain - who she had to admit - had been her rock throughout it all, yet sometimes she hated the harshness and the blunt advice her brother would give her about it all. In those moments she seeked out Aaron who was soothing and comforting when he needed to be, Chas couldn't help but feel guilty sometimes as she watched her son obviously struggle with Victoria or Doug as they offloaded their despair about Diane. She could see him fidget and look towards the ground as he almost turned away from them as they spoke. But now as she stared at him chatting away to Adam and sipping on a pint it seemed like old times, she didn't feel low and guilty today and by the looks of it neither did her son.

"I'm thinking about taking Vic somewhere for a few days." Adam said leaning over and whispering after carefully watching his wife pour a pint and then return back to the kitchen.

Aaron frowned softly, "Why? Oh god Adam what have you done now?"

Adam rolled his head back before playfully slapping Aaron's arm,
"Oi! Nothing alright." Adam smirked, "Well apart from be a good husband."

Aaron rolled his eyes, "Then why?"

"All this stuff with Diane...she's cut up about it man. And she's getting better, I just want to make her a bit more...more relaxed." Adam said sighing.

Aaron gulped as the guilt seeped through him, he knew Victoria looked more tired recently but he had managed to block out the way she would lean slightly on Adam fro support or the way she seemed to make excuses to leave before Adam even finished his pint. She had been there constantly for Diane over the past few weeks and Aaron couldn't help but admire her for it.

"Right." Aaron said nodding.

"And all this stuff with Robert-"

"Robert?" Aaron said quickly.

"Well yeah...I dunno but she's just all in his business about who he's with. Apparently he's been coming home late, staying out doing god knows what-" Adam said before looking up and seeing the worried expression on Aaron's face. "Mate sorry I —"

Suddenly thoughts filled Aaron's mind if he wondered if Robert was staying out late with someone other than him, instantly Aaron felt the need to ask Adam more questions about it all yet the realisation that Robert had been with him most nights recently coming back late from the pub yesterday and the time he saw Aaron nearly self harm and stayed for some time. It added up in his mind as he began to understand that Robert hadn't probably disclosed any information to Victoria which would obviously set his sister on edge as her nosiness got the better of her.

Aaron shook his head slowly,
"Eh...don't be daft." He said deciding to push Robert to the back of his mind. "Anyway, it's a great idea taking Vic somewhere nice, she deserves some peace and quiet."

Adam sipped at his beer and smiled "Yeah?"

"Course, I can manage the scrap yard." Aaron said before biting down on his lip and seeing Adam smile eagerly.

"Thanks mate...just a few days. Not anywhere far."

"Sounds good." Aaron said before lifting up his pint. Aaron couldn't help but feel happy for Adam who seemed excited about getting away and being with Victoria. Yet he couldn't help but feel sad, the selfish need for Adam and Victoria to be near and to keep him feeling normal was overwhelming him. As much as he enjoyed Robert's company lately he still felt a tight knot in his stomach whenever they got too close, he still felt this guilt he knew wasn't budging.

Aaron had grown to rely and count on Adam and Victoria to be free for a coffee or a quick pint in the pub in order to forget his worries and now he knew that the next few days wouldn't be the same. He couldn't turn to them when his guilt about Robert became too much to bare.

Aaron's thoughts were ripped away from him sudden to as he felt someone grip his shoulder hard. Aaron looked up and saw Cain standing behind him smiling wickedly.

"If ya looking for me mum she's doing a delivery." Adam said sipping on his pint and not noticing the tense atmosphere in the room as Aaron realised that Cain would probably want a chat.

"Yeah I know..." Cain said quickly before trying to Aaron, "It was you I was after."

Aaron gulped hard as he felt his heart race trying to figure out what to say,
"Me?"

Cain sighed loudly before laughing as he saw Adam realising the obvious problem,
"Isn't that what I said?" He said trying to ease the tension.

"What now?" Aaron said harshly staring at the pint in front of him.

Cain nodded before watching Aaron get up slowly and walk towards the bar leaving Adam bewildered by his best mate's distraction.

"You wanna tell me what's going on?" Cain said sharply.

Aaron hesitated before deciding to play it cool, as far as Cain knew things were fine between him and Robert and the investigation was almost over so there was no need for Aaron to panic.

"What do you mean?" Aaron replied sternly as he rested his arm against the bar.

"I mean." Cain edged closer "Sugden. Last I heard you were 'sorting things' and didn't want me to get involved." He continued.

"I am." Aaron snapped quietly before watching Cain smile at his obvious frustration.

Aaron tried his best not to fidget and draw attention to himself as he realised that he knew what question was coming next.

"How long do you need eh? Anyone would think you actually want to second time with the joke." Cain whispered as he edged in closer again.

Aaron gulped hard as Cain finally said what he thought he would, he couldn't take all the pressure and strain of the plan as Cain stood waiting for an almost definite date.

"How can you even say that?" Aaron snapped before moving back and looking around thankful that no one had really noticed his little outburst.

"Dunno, just seems like it's gone on for too long if ya ask me." Cain said before looking towards the bar.

Aaron nodded, "Yeah well it was you who came up with the whole idea! It's pretty hard tryna convince someone you want them when you've told them you hate 'em for the past few months!"

Cain nodded before looking towards the floor and then back to his nephew, deep down he felt guilty about the amount of pressure he was under yet the thought of Chas going into prison made him carry on.

"Look I'm given ya the rest of the week and then if he still wants to play Sherlock then he'll have to go through me!" Cain said before leaving the pub without seeing the look of agony and disappear written all over Aaron's face.

He only had five more days left, and then what?

He'd have to break his heart and watch him try and pick himself up all over again. A few weeks ago the thought of seeing Robert heartbroken managed to make the pain go away and now it only made it surface again.

After the tense conversation with his uncle Aaron was hardly in the chatty mood so he was thankful when Victoria's shift finished and her and Adam were leaving.

"Right I'm off." Adam said before downing his pint with speed and patting Aaron's shoulder.

"Yeah see ya tomorrow mate." Aaron said before walking behind the bar and trying to get some peace and quiet away from the busy pub in order to think about everything.

Just then Victoria marched in sighing deeply as she looked around the room in frustration, "You alright there?" Aaron said sharply causing Victoria to roll her eyes.

"Me flipping phone!" Victoria said before waving her arms around, Aaron peered over to the table near the kitchen and smiled at Victoria as she caught sight of her phone.

"Thanks." She said quickly before walking out the room. Aaron rested his head back in the sofa before hearing the familiar footsteps approach the room again, "And thanks again for being there for Robert, it means a lot to him I bet."

Aaron nodded his head, "No worries." He said before Victoria smiled brightly and turned back round again meeting Adam in the pub and leaving.

Aaron shook his head and sighed hating the fact that Victoria saw him in such a good light when he was only really using her brother in the first place, wanting nothing more than to protect his fragile mum.

Aaron felt sick as he tried to imagine how exactly he would just put an end to everything him and Robert shared over the past two weeks. The subtle looks at first developing into heartfelt speeches and cute messages, Aaron smiled to himself as he allowed happy thoughts of Robert to enter his mind. They thoughts quickly stopped though as Aaron realised that Robert was back from the hospital now that visiting hours had stopped, the thought of Robert being so near made his heart race.

Almost instantly Aaron realised that he couldn't keep up the fakeness of their closeness for a minute longer, how could he spent another few days in his company all the while counting down the minutes until Cain told him that the plan was over. Aaron began to feel dizzy as he accepted the fact that Robert would hate him as much as he thought he hated Robert.

It would end badly.

Chapter Text

Aaron sighed loudly before unlocking the back door and escaping into the night, desperately in need of fresh air to fill his lungs. Aaron looked over to Victoria's cottage and couldn't help but wonder what exactly Robert was up to. For all he knew he could be hiring a new better more qualified investigator to replace Joel and the whole plan would have to start from scratch, no horrific traumatic link with the man would be able to stop Robert this time right?

Aaron kicked an old barrel hard causing him to stand back and catch his breath.

"Careful." A cheery voice said from behind him. It was the bloke from the morning, the delivery man who had managed to embarrass his mum. Jamie.

Aaron edged away as he saw Jamie's smiley face, "Sorry I —" Jamie blinked quickly and faced towards the entrance of the pub.

Aaron admired him for a minute, looking at his large brown eyes and scruffy hair as well as his light stubble and obvious dimples. Things Aaron hadn't noticed before. Aaron relaxed slightly as he looked at his dimples and his smile, he looked innocent enough.

"Jamie, the delivery guy." Jamie said quickly.

"Er yeah I remember you but what are ya doing —"

"Your mum somehow managed to get my number." Jamie said before biting his lip awkwardly.

Aaron stared at him wide eyed, "Oh gosh even after realising you don't bat for her team yikes. What does she want with ya?"

Jamie laughed, "Asked me if i fancied an apology pint for this morning, says she feels dead embarrassed and her son didn't help!"

Aaron rolled his eyes realising that his mother would say exactly that, "Sounds like her."

"Eh I hope she weren't too cut up about me being gay." Jamie said biting his lip again and frowning.

"Oh don't worry she'll bounce back." Aaron said before smiling, "And hey she got over it when I told her."

Jamie looked up and smiled, for the first time since they began charting Aaron saw a little twinkle in his eye. The mention of Aaron behind gay had managed to catch Jamie's attention but Aaron could tell he was way too polite to make a move, and Aaron was thankful.

"Were you alright before? The whole kicking quite hard barrels thing." Jamie asked as he tried to steer the conversation back to Aaron.

Aaron nodded his head, this Jamie seemed like a nice enough bloke but he wasn't really in the mood to spill all his darkest secrets and thoughts,
"Er yeah...yeah I'm fine."

"You sure about that?" Aaron looked at Jamie blankly unsure of how to answer the question as lying became too hard a task to carry out, "Why don't I get us both a pint and you can tell me."

Aaron shook his head quickly, "No I'm sick of that pub." He said angrily.

"Well," Jamie walked round to the entrance and sat on the bench. "We'll sit here."

Aaron hesitated still slightly unsure what he was doing or what Jamie's intentions were, yet somewhere deep down he knew that he couldn't keep this guilt buried for much longer. Aaron walked slowly over the bench before sitting down and sighing.

 

^*^

 

"What's wrong?" Jamie asked plainly.

Aaron gulped hard as he stared at Jamie,
"You can't tell anyone."

"Who would I tell? It's my first day delivering here so I don't exactly know everyone"

"I mean me mum." Aaron said sharply causing Jamie to smile reassuringly.

"Of course not." Jamie said leaning back.

Aaron sighed loudly, "I'm lying to him..." he whispered causing Jamie to move closer.

"To who?" Jamie said sincerely.

"Robert." Aaron looked up and saw the confusion in Jamie's face, "My ex." Aaron saw Jamie's jaw tense slightly as he nodded his head.

"Right. Why?" Jamie said slowly trying to understand what Aaron meant.

Aaron hesitated before realising that he couldn't tell Jamie the reasons behind it all.

"Because I'm tryna protect my mum."

Jamie nodded his head again,
"And what lying to this Robert is the only way to do that?"

Aaron bit his lip remembering how hard he thought about other ways of keeping Robert away from this investigating work in the first place, but he knew that the alternative was Cain doing some damage.

"Pretty much yeah..."

"What are you actually lying about?" Jamie asked.

"At first it was everything, every look every smile was just a lie. I hated him. But...I had to make him think that I wanted him back." Aaron said before sniffing and fighting back the tears too embarrassed to cry in front of a man he just met that morning, "And then things changed and...I've started to fall for him again. It isn't pretend anymore."

Jamie sighed trying to understand Aaron,
"So to protect your mum, you had to make out as if you still wanted your ex?" Aaron looked up and was surprised to see how understanding Jamie appeared.  "And now you actually want him back. For real."

Aaron sighed it was too soon to think about being back together that way after everything, "I'm not sure."

"Then I'm sure he'll wait." Jamie said reassuringly again.

Aaron rolled his head back and sighed,
"You don't understand...this whole plan has to stop in a few days. Me and him it has to end."

Jamie frowned, “Why?"

"Because, because if my family found out that...that I even like him then all hell would break loose!" Aaron said imagining the anger in his uncle's face as he realised that he had pushed them back together.

"So they're not huge Robert fans." Jamie said awkwardly.

 

^*^

Aaron smiled miserably as he looked down and thought about the countless times his family would belittle Robert and talk badly about him, he was used to it by now but back when only a handle of people knew it still managed to make his stomach churn. Aaron thought back to the day Cain beat Robert to a pulp over a stupid photo, the memory of wincing every time he heard his uncle hurl another punch towards his ex lover was something that would never fade away.
After saving him from his angry uncle he remembered the panic he felt as they drove back to the village, he hated Robert back then yet he couldn't stand seeing him so weak and frail as he struggled to sit up straight in the passenger seat. All because his family hated him and he had given them good reason to.

"Aaron ... Aaron." Robert mumbled as he looked over and saw the panic in Aaron's eyes that made his heart flutter. Aaron had been so reserved for the last few weeks and it was the first time that Robert had seen any real emotions from his ex lover. He wanted nothing more than to reach out for me and grab onto his hand to soothe the worry but his aching rubs stopped him.

"I'm taking you home." Aaron snapped as he looked away from Robert not wanting to see his bloodied face.

"No I —" Robert pleaded not wanting to explain himself to Chrissie.

"What were you playing at?" Aaron shouted as he let his anger spill out. Robert shook his head slowly, "Mouthing off like that to Cain. Cain of all people!"

Robert shrugged his shoulders and struggled to speak, so reached out for him instead as they turned into Home Farm, "I can handle Cain."

Aaron scoffed as he looked at Robert and saw the blood trickling down his face,
"Yeah looks like it!" He said before ripping his eyes away and feeling a sting of pain race through him. He couldn't bare to look at him for a second longer as he was reminded of just how much damage his family could do to him.

"I'll be fine." Robert sighed trying his best to reassure Aaron once again.

"For now." Aaron snapped before turning to Robert and frowning as he saw an innocent smile on his ex lovers face. "What?" He shouted at Robert.

Robert smiled again, "You sound like me..." Robert coughed and winced as the pain hurt him badly, "When I was telling ya to stop running."

Aaron shook his head slowly remembering how persistent Robert had been, he was right he did sound like him. He had the same concern and worry in his voice and Aaron resented the fact that Robert could tell just how anxious he was becoming.

Aaron shook his head, "This isn't some joke Robert." He snapped again as he saw Robert's smile fade, "You need to stay clear of —"

"Who? Your family right?" Robert snapped before sighing and realising how sad it all sounded. He loved Aaron, even though he didn't want to admit to it again and face rejection he knew that Aaron still harboured some feelings too. And to think that Aaron's family were so against him was something that unexpectedly managed to hurt him. To say that Robert was used to the dislike of family members was an understatement considering the fact that his father in law was Lawrence White, yet the hatred he knew most of Aaron's family had for him was enough to make him question himself.

Robert rarely thought about them as a couple that way, where Robert would easily chat to Aaron's family about work and life without a care in the world. Yet now Aaron was actually warning him to stay away from them entirely was something that made him feel regretful. As if his actions that day had managed to spoil things in the future, as if him and Aaron even had one together. Robert shook his head blaming the pounding in his head for thoughts circling his mind.

"Yeah..." Aaron said softly as similar thoughts circled his head. He felt sad, knowing that his family despised the man he loved so much. Frustration filled his mind as he thought about the fact that Robert really let anyone see the real him, the person that Aaron saw all the time. Aaron bit down on his lip as he thought back to his past relationships and how well his family seemed to tolerate and in cases even like his partners.

Jackson was a slow burner, his family at first were sceptical of their relationship for obvious reasons yet as time went by he was relieved to know that Jackson got on with them all and even had time to joke around and freak out Cain.

Then there was Ed who his family eagerly wanted Aaron to be with, this dashing kind man who could sweep Aaron off his feet and whisk away to Paris. It didn't take long for them all to form a positive opinion about him and Aaron was grateful for it.

And now Robert Sugden had entered his life and to say that he wasn't really liked by the Dingles was quite the understatement. He was known in the village for his womanising ways and disloyal actions long before he ever crashed his lips into Aaron's and turned his world upside down, and so most of the family were familiar with his antics and had already formed their own judgment on the man.

At first the whole bad boy reputation made Robert seem even more exciting and off limits which made Aaron want him even more. Yet that was before things became serious and Aaron naively allowed himself to imagine a life with Robert, a life were Robert could joke around with his family like Jackson could and be adored and appreciated like Ed so easily was. Aaron shook his head again looking at Robert and being reminded of how wrong he had been, how naive and silly his thoughts were.

His family would always hate Robert and nothing would change that.

"What can I say eh..." Robert said before pushing himself up on the seat, "They're not my biggest fans."

Aaron smiled weakly and tried to hold it together as he saw the disappointment in Robert's face and wondered why, yet instantly Aaron pulled the thought out of his mind realising it didn't matter anymore.

*^*

 

The cold air hit Aaron hard as she stared at Jamie who was patiently awaiting a response.

Aaron scoffed, "Yeah you could say that!"

"But...what if they see that you're happy with him!" Jamie said edging towards Aaron.

Aaron rolled his head back, "It wouldn't make a difference trust me."

Jamie sat wide eyed, "What they wouldn't try and forget even if they saw that you're genuinely happy, every parent wants their kid to be happy."

Aaron shook his head wishing it was that simple, "What is that why you're so close to yours?" He snapped letting his angry out unfairly.

Jamie titled his head towards the floor and Aaron couldn't help but feel guilty.

"Listen mate-" Aaron apologetically.

"No worries, I walked straight into that!" Jamie said laughing and allowing Aaron to feel better.

"I'm just I can't go on like this." Aaron said sighing loudly, "Lashing out all the time and...and feeling so guilty." He continued before breathing in quickly and fighting back his tears.

"So what are ya going to do?" Jamie asked softly.

"End it. Before it's too late." Aaron whispered. "I'm gonna have to break his heart aren't I? It's the only way." Aaron said before burying his head in his hands and allowing himself to feel overwhelmed with guilt. Jamie moved in closer and patted his back reassuringly as he felt Aaron shake almost uncontrollably.

Robert sat on his bed still reeling from his visit from Joel and realising that he would have to have that conversation soon. Robert shook his head he tried to distract himself by studying his phone and flicking through messages. The sound of a car driving down the village street caught Robert's attention as he edged closer to his bedroom window the glow from the Woolpack filled his eyes as he wondered what Aaron was up to.

Just as he was about to rip his eyes away from the window Robert found himself gazing down towards the front entrance and noticing Aaron's black hoddie, his figure slouched over and another man relatively close to him patting his back reassuringly before whispering something in his ear.

Robert backed away as he realised that he shouldn't have been looking, he was wrong to believe that yesterday had changed anything between them. Nothing could repair the damage Robert has caused and he had to learn to accept that Aaron would find someone worth his while. Yet it didn't stop his heart from pounding as he remembered the closeness of their bodies and the hushed voices as Aaron sat spending his evening with another man.

Chapter Text

 

The next morning Aaron awoke with a start, as the memory of the previous day filled his mind. He had spent nearly an hour talking to Jamie, after his mini breakdown and the way Jamie had easily comforted him he felt comfortable in his company. The conversation had gotten lighter and Aaron was able to turn the conversation back to Jamie. He remembered how Jamie began talking about his family living back in London and how he wasn't really close to them anymore, Aaron had nodded his head and assumed it was because of his sexuality. Although Aaron felt nothing romantically for Jamie he couldn't help but feel attached to him in a way he first felt towards Victoria. After talking Jamie had walked Aaron back round to the back of the pub and smiled brightly before offering Aaron his number and watching Aaron press it into his phone. The entire exchange was harmless and even when Jamie patted his shoulder and leaned in for a half heartened hug, Aaron didn't feel anything but gratitude.

It was only when Aaron was alone in his room that night did he let out a deep sigh of relief as he realised that he had offloaded some of his guilt and had actually felt better about himself. Truly better and more at peace. He had actually managed to have a good nights sleep.

*

 

Aaron raced down the stairs, overcome with the need to see Robert and ask him all about the hospital visit, he was so full of pride knowing that his words had managed to change his opinion and make Robert understand that Diane needed him. His happy mood was short lived as he heard his mum panting in the living room, her breathing was quick and making Aaron feel worried as he edged towards the door. The sound of her voice sent shivers through his body.

"Calm down ... it's okay just ... just calm down." Chas said quickly as she tried to steady her breathing. The sound of Aaron barging through the door made her feel sick as she saw the worry on her son's face.

"Mum! Mum are you okay?" Aaron said as he ran into the room and held onto her shaking arms.

"I'm fine love. I'm —"

"What's going on? What's happened?" Aaron yelled as he sat her down and petted her hair.

Chas breathed in slowly and was finally able to relax as she moved back down on the sofa still overcome with emotion. Aaron edged closer to his mum seeing the fear still in her eyes.

"Mum ... mum what happened?"

"I just had a little panic attack love, my breathing, I was thinking about Diane."

Aaron rolled his head back before sighing he hated how badly his mum was still effected by it all, "A panic attack? Mum that's serious."

Chas bit her lip, "I know love. It's okay though —"

"It's not!" Aaron yelled loudly before sighing as he saw Chas flinch out his voice.

"If I have another one I'll go to the doctors to see if they can give me summat alright?" Chas said softly as she stroked Aaron's hair.

"Promise?" Aaron said slowly feeling like a little boy again.

"Yeah ... of course darling I promise." Chas said smiling, "Come here." She said before pulling Aaron in for a tight hug.

"Maybe take a few hours off, relax a bit." Aaron said pulling away and watching Chas nod, "I could stay if you like."

"Don't be daft love, a few hours in here sounds just about right. You go I'll be fine."

Aaron nodded slowly before reluctantly pushing his jacket over him, "You sure?" He said, "I don't wanna leave you if-"

"I said I'm fine now darling don't be silly!" Chas said sweetly before looking towards the door, "Eh and you never know that Jamie might need to deliver something else! Wouldn't want to miss that would I?"

Aaron smiled before shaking his head and looking towards the floor, this flirty funny side of his mum made him more okay with leaving her. Aaron took one final look at his mum before moving towards the door and leaving the pub.

*

Robert quickly caught his sight as Aaron frowned slightly noticing the slow pace Robert was walking at. His head was dropping down lazily as he bopped up and down through the street. Aaron sighed realising that he hadn't made any real effort last night to find out about the visit to the hospital, he hadn't been there for him like Robert had days go. He was pathetic. Offering his support was the one thing he could actually do now that time was running out and soon Robert would be nothing more than an ex.

Robert looked up and gazed at Aaron who looked as troubled as he felt, Robert had hardly slept he had been up all night trying to forget about seeing Aaron so close to someone else. He had tried to come up with suitable scenarios for their conversation as he wondered if he was someone Aaron had previously seen. Robert had then allowed his mind to travel back to the many times Aaron had held back, thinking about how Aaron may have been seeing someone else all along. As Robert looked up at Robert from across the small road he felt the familiar surge of butterflies explode in his stomach, he had attempted to tackle his feelings for Aaron the night before and told himself that Aaron being with someone else was fine almost natural considering they weren't together yet seeing him again managed to make him realise once more just how deeply he loved him.

Aaron waked over to Robert and bit his lip, "Alright?" He said avoiding Robert who was now feeling overwhelmed with realisation that he still loved Aaron to the point where seeing him with someone else made him feel sad yet angry that Aaron could ever think about seeing someone whilst still spending time with him.

"Never better." Robert said bitterly allowing the frustration he felt to pour out.

Aaron nodded his head and smiled softly trying his hardest to brush over the harshness in Robert's tone, "How was yesterday then?" He asked plainly.

Robert scoffed before blinking and looking towards the floor, "You kidding?"

Aaron stepped back, “No. No how was she? I want to know?"

Robert sighed before staring at Aaron and seeing the concerned look in his eyes. The look was enough to make the anger ease slightly, "She's fine. The setback...it was just some breathing problems."

Aaron rolled his head back and let out a sigh of relief, "Thank God!"

"Yeah it's great news." Robert snapped.

Aaron frowned finally having enough of the bluntness in Robert's voice, "What the hell is wrong with ya?"

"Well ya didn't seem to bothered about asking me yesterday."

Aaron pinched his nose, "I'm here now." He said softly before realising that Robert didn't deserve his soft tone.

Robert went to speak but Aaron cut him off, not quite finished.

"I come over here asking ya about Diane 'cos I knew you seeing her was a big deal to ya and you're all snappy and angry for no reason?"

Robert sighed loudly before glaring at Aaron, "Who says I don't have a reason?"

Aaron pinched the top of his noes and sighed once again, his heart beating with wild confusion and rage as he struggled to understand what the problem was. His thoughts then turned to his mum as he turned away from Robert, the realisation that Chas honestly need him more than Robert did was blindingly obvious.

Robert bit his lip as he raced after Aaron and pulled his arm back, "Aaron —"

Aaron shoved Robert's arm away aggressively, "I don't have time for this now Robert."

"Why? More important things to worry about?" Robert said mocking Aaron and smiling.

Aaron turned and faced Robert, seeing the intense glare and wicked smile that had disappeared over the past few days and was replaced with a soft gentle expression. Aaron breathed heavily as he began to realise that this blunt harsh Robert was exactly the man he forced himself to remember whenever he felt himself become too close to his ex lover.

"Yeah, actually yeah." Aaron said walking past Robert again and forcing him to keep up.

Robert rolled his eyes, "Like what?" He asked softly wondering if Aaron would be honest about the other things on his mind, thinking it must have been his conversation with the mystery man last night.

Aaron sighed hard wondering if after Robert had acted so rudely he should open up about the state he had found his mum in. Yet the soft kind thoughts of Robert invaded his mind instead prompting him to offload.

Aaron blinked quickly and rubbed his hand over his forehead, "Me mum-" He whispered.

Robert scoffed before rolling his eyes annoyed that Aaron had seemingly used his mum as an excuse.

"You really gonna use your mum."

Aaron backed away and walked in the opposite direction overwhelmed with hurt and anger. Tears were starting to fall as he thought about his mum and then back to Robert and then back again to Diane and all the pain and hurt he was feeling.
Robert instantly regretted his words once again he hadn't thought it through whatsoever. He was lashing out still hurt by the fact that Aaron had obviously confided in someone else.

"Aaron wait hold on a sec!" He shouted causing Aaron to wipe his face pushing away the tears and staring at Robert.

"I was only tryna help ya, be there for ya like you were there for me!" Aaron said angrily still raging from how horrible Robert had been.

"Yeah well by the looks of it I'm not the only one who was there for ya." Robert said finally letting go of all his pent up anger and hurt from the night before.


"What?" Aaron shouted back before frowning as he tried to work out what he meant.


"Last night...I saw ya with some bloke outside the pub." Robert said sadly as he watched Aaron draw nearer again,  "Looked very close." He said bitterly.

Aaron rubbed his forehead softly not knowing what to say. Maybe if Robert thought Aaron was seeing someone, the sudden stop in contact wouldn't seem as odd. Aaron mulled over the idea as Robert anxiously awaited to hear if his suspicions were right.

“It wasn't what you think." Aaron whispered deciding that Robert didn't deserve to find out that way, it would be cruel really if Aaron used a harmless conversation and turned it into something more.

"I saw ya." Robert said bluntly.

Aaron gulped hard, "Did you hear anything?" He said remembering that Robert himself was the main topic of conversation.

"No." Aaron let out a sigh of relief, "Didn't really need to though."

"Is this what you're angry about seriously?" Robert looked away, "'Cos what ya saw was just a harmless conversation with a mate." Aaron said before recalling the fact that he had referred to Jamie as a mate just after one conversation, yet he supposed he was.

No one else had been able to listen to him for that long without passing any judgement, it was refreshing.

"Why should you really care?" Aaron snapped, "We've just got back round to actually speaking so why try and ruin things eh?" He continued.

"Me ruin things?" Robert snapped back.

"Oh yeah because you've never ruined things in the past have ya?" Aaron seethed letting his anger out.

Robert looked towards the floor realising exactly what Aaron was referring to. Andy's life stuck out the most. He didn't want to think about that and before he knew it he was being his venomous self once again.

Robert scoffed, "Says the bloke who ruined me marriage." He said quickly before instantly regretting his words and looking away as he saw Aaron's face turn red with anger.

Aaron wanted to punch Robert and not ever stop, in that moment Robert was the man who made his heart ache and skin crawl all over again. Aaron felt the need to fight back and justify his reasons, yet it slowly melted away as he realised Robert was hardly worth the hassle.

"You ruined lives mate." Aaron whispered as he leaned in closer.

"Not this again —" Robert said trying to hide his feelings of despair.

"Katie's, Andy's, Chrissie's..." Aaron yelled before moving closer as he watched Robert back away and shake his head, "I could go on."

Aaron stared Robert down before turning away and shaking his head in anger.

Robert felt his head race with emotions, the things Aaron said hade hurt him badly yet he couldn't stop the self loathing he was experiencing. Blaming Aaron for the failure of his marriage was something he never wanted to do again.

Robert sighed loudly as Joel suddenly entered his head. The thought caught Robert off guard as he stared at Aaron walking away and almost instinctively called out, "You have no clue do ya... what I'm gonna have to do for you —" Robert shouted overwhelmed with a sense of fear and anxiousness.

"What? What you going on about?" Aaron said after turning around and squinting at Robert angrily.

"Nothing. Nothing. I'm just talking rubbish forget about it." Robert said after realising that Aaron didn't need to feel any guilt or responsibility for Joel.

Aaron tutted and went to turn back yet Robert had already grabbed holed of his arm softly and pulled him back,
"Aaron wait..." Robert whispered, the need to be wanted and simply understood by Aaron suddenly tugged at his heart.

"I'm sorry it's just I thought I was enough, you obviously need someone to talk to" Robert said slowly embarrassed that he had revealed his true feelings.

Aaron stood still for a minute not knowing how to react to Robert's honesty, but soon the cloud of negativity began to hover over Aaron and he couldn't see the sincerity behind Robert's words, only the selfishness.

"What so this is really just all about your ego being slightly bruised is it?" Aaron said quickly.

Robert sighed, "What? No! No Aaron."

Aaron bit his lip, "And that gives ya the right to act like a spoilt brat? You're pathetic."

He couldn't believe it really, this was the Robert he knew and hated with all his heart. The Robert he thought had disappeared over the past few weeks. Aaron shook his head feeling embarrassed as he remembered the way he had cried the night before,  filled with dread as he tried to wrap his head round the fact that he would have to end things. 

"To think that I thought you ... I — we — " Aaron said letting his emotions get the better of him and then suddenly turning away from Robert.

Robert looked up at Aaron and felt his heart breaking, he wanted nothing more than to hear what Aaron was trying to say but the moment had passed and Aaron was back looking at him with nothing but sadness in his eyes that mirrored Robert's expression.

"I'm done wasting me tears on you." Aaron whispered, "Whatever this little friendship was between us..." Aaron waved his hand in front of him and the space between him and Robert, “It's done, finished, over." 

Robrrt nodded his head slowly before looking away from his ex lover. The words were drumming into his head making him feel worthless. 

"Do me a favour and stay well clear of me yeah?" Aaron sighed before turning back round and marching towards the scrapyard, ignoring the calls from his ex and firmly intent of forgetting all about him.

Chapter Text

Aaron stomped all the way back to the scrap yard as he seethed with anger, it was overwhelming and unwanted. The sound of heavy metal hitting against a large blue van made Aaron jump as he approached the scrap site and walked straight passed Adam who was busy at work.

"Er you not gonna help me?"

"Later." Aaron mumbled as he walked towards his desk and rubbed his forehead softly.

Adam dropped a large metal door into the van and then quickly made his way inside, "What's happened now?" He sighed as he saw the tear stained look on Aaron's face.

Aaron shot his head up quickly not wanting to bore Adam with details about his so called love life and arguments with Robert Sugden.

"Nothing." Aaron said quickly. "I'm fine."

Adam sat back on his chair as Aaron rolled his eyes realising that his best mate wasn't going to let the conversation end.

"Is this about me taking Vic away for a few days cos-"

Aaron shook his head and smiled at Adam who was probably panicking about having to explain why he wanted to take his wife away again.

"Then what?" Adam mumbled growing worried for his friend who was obviously overwhelmed by something.

"It's er Jimmy yeah I saw him earlier and he was winding me up about this place not going anywhere." Aaron lied even convincing himself of the events.

Almost instantly Adam let out a sigh of relief and smiled brightly, Aaron could see how relieved he was that it wasn't anything too serious. Aaron didn't want to take that relief away and so played along with it all.

"Is that it? Jimmy being a dick?" Adam said half laughing and trying not to annoy Aaron too much.

Aaron bit down on his lip and let out a laugh, "Well yeah." He said before Adam patted him hard on the back and walked towards the door, "Alright I'm leaving ya to sulk for a few minutes then you're helping me shift the last of this." Adam called out as he opened the door and headed back outside. Aaron shook his head thankful that the conversation had managed to calm him down slightly, the hurt was still there.

Yet Aaron could hardly be too betrayed and shocked by Robert not trusting him, the irony of the situation was once again taking its toll.

Aaron suddenly got to his feet and walked to the door, hoping that piling metal on a van would be a welcomed distraction. Yet the sound of his phone buzzing, stopped him in his tracks.

Aaron picked his phone up from the table and wished that it wasn't a message from Robert, he was the last person he wanted to hear from. Well apart from:


> Investigating is tough work sometimes, hard to solve but times running out for you though - J

Aaron felt his heart race frantically, this message from an unknown number filled his mind with worry and dread. 'J' the initial sent shivers through his body and it didn't take long for Aaron to realise that it wasn't Jamie. It was Joel. Aaron felt himself begin to shake as he tried to understand and work out how exactly Joel had his number and why he was tormenting him. For days Aaron had tried to push Joel to the back of his mind, naively hoping that Robert had left things with him and cut all ties. He must have been wrong, Joel was obviously still finding things and trying his hardest to make sure Aaron payed for it all, for all the damage and pain. Suddenly Robert naively given out Aaron's details on that drunk night, filled his head with even more worry.

Aaron was struggling to keep it together as he heard Adam shout something to him, the walls felt like they were closing in on him as he stared down at his phone.

"Hard of hearing are ya?" Adam shouted as he walked back to where Aaron was standing still staring at his phone.

Aaron shook his head as if he was shaking the feeling out of his mind,
"Sorry...er what?"

Adam bit his lip, "Something happen?" He said as he pointed to the phone in Aaron's hand.

Aaron sighed loudly and decided that he didn't want to lie to Adam anymore. Shaking slightly Aaron passed over his phone to his best mate who was now cautious of what it meant. A minute or two passed as Adam read the message over and over again and frowned. Aaron stared at Adam as he tried to figure out what to say when Adam asked questions, he couldn't tell him everything and then expect him to lie to Victoria. It wasn't fair.

Adam looked up at Aaron, "What do they mean, times running out?" He snapped angrily.

Aaron looked away from Adam quickly.

"Aaron what have you got yourself into?"

'A shit load of mess'

Aaron hesitated before answering, "Nothing I can't handle."

Adam scoffed, "Yeah that's why you're freaking out over a message!"

"It's just somebody I used to know...holding a grudge." Aaron whispered.

"What when you used to do all that drug dealing shit." Adam said before shaking his head.

Aaron sighed as he thought back to the dodgy men he used to be 'owned' by as he sold their drugs. It seemed like the perfect scapegoat for Aaron who realised that Adam didn't need to know about Joel.


"Yeah it's fine though."

"I'm not letting ya handle this by yourself!" Adam shouted as he watched Aaron walk away from him. Aaron bit down on his lip and struggled to continue walking, he was touched by how badly Adam wanted to help him.

"And I'm not letting ya get dragged into this, Robert already knows-" Aaron shouted before stopping himself.

Adam shook his head quickly,
"Wait Robert knows about whatever is going on?"

Aaron nodded his head slowly.

"And he's not helped ya!" Adam yelled.

Aaron hesitated again,                                                                                                                                                            "Well...yeah but-"

Adam sighed loudly and went back to doing his work leaving Aaron stunned as he tried to work out what Adam was going to do.

"I need to clear my head." Aaron mumbled as he walked away from the site. "Don't do anything stupid yeah..." he continued thinking about Adam shouted his mouth off to Robert wasn't something he wanted. Right now he didn't want Robert acting like his Prince Charming and helping him bring down Joel when after their argument old feelings of hate had begun to resurface.

"Don't worry mate...I'll make sure Robert gets the message, without hurting him too much." Adam whispered as he watched Aaron turn the corner and disappear.

*^*

Robert chewed hard on his gum and bit his lip down as he tried to fight back his emotions. He couldn't believe how quickly things between him and Aaron could change, to think that yesterday they had finally found some sort of peace and now they were back to square one. Once again Robert was chucking accusations at Aaron and making him feel small and vulnerable. It was a talent of his of course, Robert shook his head wondering why exactly he always managed to mess things up. With self hatred and anger coursing through his body intensely Robert charged back towards his cottage and slammed the door shut.

"What's up with you?" Victoria shouted from inside the living room as she heard Robert stomp about angrily.

Robert rolled his head back the last thing he needed was Victoria's curiousness.

"Nothing. I'm fine." He shouted back as he tried to escape to his room upstairs. Victoria frowned before following her brother and calling after him.

"You hardly said two words last night, I didn't even get to talk to you about how Diane was-" Victoria said standing on the stairs as she heard her brother slowly come down them and face towards her.

"Who told you I went to the hospital?" Robert sighed realising that of course it must have been Aaron.

"Well I was chatting to Aaron and-" Victoria said quickly as she watched her brother walk past her and move into the living room.

"He told me that you spent the day together:" Victoria continued as she walked towards the living room with a huge smile on her face. Robert frowned realising that Aaron wouldn't just blurt out something like that, it was clear that Aaron obviously didn't want anyone to really know about them spending time together at all and Robert had grown to accept that.

"He told ya or you dragged it out of him?" Robert said loudly as he shook his head and cringed at the thought of his little sister trying her best to find out where he had been.

Victoria's silence told him more than enough as she bit her lip and hesitated.

Robert rolled his eyes,
"Why can't you just leave things alone?"

"I was worried that you were off with some random and I-" Victoria said waving her arms around and trying to make Robert see her side.

"So what if I was? You're not me mum Vic!" Robert shouted growing frustrated.

Victoria sighed before looking towards the floor, "I'm just looking out for you, it's not like Andy gives a toss."

Robert sighed slowly as he looked at his sister and couldn't help but feel touched by her concern, he could always rely on her Victoria to worry and want to know how he has.

It was something that he wasn't used to, the more he thought about it the more he realised that he had been taken her for granted for too long. Robert blinked slowly before sitting down and rolling his head back, "I know you are..."

Victoria bit her lip and sat down opposite her brother, "Aaron said that you were that you didn't really know how to handle Diane being in hospital that you were worried."

Robert nodded, "Yeah..."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Victoria said with disappointment in her voice.

Robert shrugged his shoulders, "Dunno...,"

"I'm glad you can talk to Aaron though, he's been there for you." Victoria said softly.

Robert scoffed and shook his head,
"Shame I can't say the same."

Victoria sat wide eyed, "What do you mean?"

Robert looked at her and then shook his head, unsure whether to tell her about heat he saw last night and how he felt about it all. Robert sighed before getting up and deciding that he didn't want to think about it anymore.

"Rob what happened? Robert...come back" Victoria shouted after Robert who was now walking in the kitchen.

“Forget it." Robert whispered as he heard Victoria footsteps.

"Did something happen between you two?" Victoria said slowly as she looked over at Robert with suspicion.

"No! No it's not a big deal."

"Robert just tell me.”

Robert sighed hard, tired of lying and ignoring his feelings, "I saw him last night...with some guy?" he said rubbing his forehead slowly.

Victoria tutted loudly, "Oh....doing what?" She whispered.

Robert turned to her, "Just talking."

Victoria let out a sigh of relief,
"Just talking? Then what are you worried about?"

"It wasn't just about them talking, they were close...this guy was practically holding onto Aaron."

"I think you're just jumping to conclusions. Have you talked to Aaron?" Victoria said quickly trying to reassure Robert.

Robert scoffed, "Yeah...he seemed more interested in knowing if I heard 'em."

"What else did he say?" Victoria said eagerly.

"That it wasn't what I thought, that he was just a mate..." Robert said suddenly realising that Aaron could have been telling the truth.

Victoria raised her eyebrows, "And why would he be lying?"

Robert sighed loudly, "Even if it wasn't something more...I thought he could talk to me...not some 'mate.'"

Victoria rolled her eyes and squinted her eyes, "Ohhh I see what this is about...you're hurt that he could have been opening up to someone else."

Robert gulped hard Aaron had said exactly that. Was it really just about his pride?

"I think you're getting your feelings mixed into it all." Victoria whispered.

Robert scoffed, ‘Of course my feelings are involved!' Robert shook his head and disregarded the thought not wanting to make Victoria know she was right.

"What feelings? Last night...it made me realise that Aaron is just a mate. Nothing more, and I can live with that." Robert lied.

Victoria stared at her brother wide eyed,
"Can you though?" Robert bit his lip hard and turned away from his sister again. "Look Vic a few weeks ago Aaron would have left any room the minute I came and now...now we're better...well before I made some big deal about him being with someone." Robert wanted to kick himself as he realised how stupid he had been, the amount of progress him and Aaron had made was something he could just take for granted. Aaron had listened, respected him and allowed Robert to know about things no one else did. To call Robert his mate made him lucky enough, asking or thinking of anything more was something Robert had to forget about.

"I know you want to see him happy Robert, but what about yours?" Victoria sighed suddenly overwhelmed with the thought of Robert trailing through his life pinning over Aaron as he watched him find happiness elsewhere from afar.

Robert began to think about a life without the comfort or Aaron, it felt lonely and bleak yet the thought of seeing Aaron happy and content with his own life was enough to make it seem bearable. Robert ripped his thoughts away as he replayed their last conversation.

"None of this matters Vic! I...we just had some stupid fight and I said things and he said things-"

"Like what?" Victoria said moving closer and trying to calm her brother down.

"I basically told him he ruined my marriage" Robert spat remembering his harsh words.

Victoria shook her head and sighed,
"Well that wasn't wise eh."

"Yeah no kidding..." Robert sighed, "I've ruined everything." He whispered as the sudden realisation hit him harder than he had expected.

Victoria stared at her brother and saw the tears forming in his eyes. The raw emotion he felt was endearing and enough to make her want to fix everything.

Robert looked up and stared at Victoria who was now almost smiling at her brother, "What?" He said with a distressed expression on his face.

"If you were okay with him being just a mate...you wouldn't be like this...this distraught about a fight. "

Robert blinked quickly, "It wasn't like the other fights...he said whatever we had...it was over."

"And what did you have?" Victoria asked softly.

Robert blinked slowly trying to answer the question. It was harder than he thought. What did they actually have? They had developed an understanding, a mutual respect and friendship.

"Respect, trust..."

"But...now it's ruined yeah? And you feel guilty...that's why you're like this...?" Victoria said before smirking softly.


Robert sighed knowing that Victoria was hinting at something more, she was well and truly fishing for bait but Robert wasn't biting.

"Yeah..."

"You're in love." Victoria said quickly causing Robert to sit wide eyed, "That's why."

Robert felt his heart explode as he stared towards the ground, he had known for a long time but now hearing someone else say it made him feel conscious wondering if Aaron had realised the deep level of affection. The love that hadn't faded ever.

Robert nodded his head slowly in agreement, "I love him Vic...I can't carry on pretending that I want to be there for him as a just a mate."

Victoria smiled, "You have to tell him!" She said giddily.

Robert smiled before shaking his head quickly. How could he confess his undying love to the man who he knew hated him deep down. Their argument had just proved that he obviously still harboured dark thoughts and bad memories about their relationship and despite the love he felt he couldn't deny the toxicity that came with it all.

"No for once Vic...I'm gonna put someone else first." Robert said before kissing Victoria's cheek and leaving their cottage. The cold air slapped him sharply as he looked down at the photo of Aaron sleeping silently again, it had managed to calm him down.

 

 

Chapter Text

"Oi!" Adam shouted as he walked towards Robert who was still transfixed by the image in his phone.

"You deaf?" Adam continued as he edged closer.

Robert rolled his eyes knowing that an argument with his brother in law was honestly the last thing he needed.

"Now is not a good time Adam." Robert sighed as he tried to walk away from the argument Adam clearly wanted.

Robert managed to make his way to the end of the street before he felt Adam marching towards him again, "I think you have some explaining to do." Adam shouted loudly.

Robert turned round and laughed at Adam who was clearly still angry,
"To you? Don't be daft Adam." He said playfully trying to patronise his brother in law.

Adam shoved Robert hard and watched as he nearly fell back onto the ground.

"What the hell is your problem?" Robert shouted as he walked towards Adam again.

"AARON!" Adam shouted loudly as he let his anger out. Robert blinked quickly realising that Aaron probably went straight back to Adam after their fight and now he was having to deal with the wrath of the best friend.

"What's he said? Is he alright?" Robert asked softly as he suddenly allowed himself to think back to how Aaron handles pressure and pain, he'd cut until it all went away.

"I don't get ya one minute you're telling the village it was all some big mistake you and him...and then you're all concerned the next." Adam shouted.


"Adam please what's happened-" Robert said nervously picturing Aaron doing something rash and painful.


"He came to the scrap yard in a right mood, I thought he was alright after I had a word but then he just..." Adam said slowly.

"Just what?" Robert sighed expecting the worst.

"He got some text" Adam said causing Robert to frown, "What text?"

"It said something about investigating and time running out for Aaron." Adam said shakily.

Robert felt the anger surge through his body realising that Joel was now targeting Aaron head on, obviously intent on harassing him into any sort of confession.

"Did you see who it was from?" Robert asked after taking a moment to calm himself down.

Adam shrugged his shoulders and sighed,
"Unknown number...but it did have a J at the end maybe his name."

Robert started pacing the street as the initial was clearly the confirmation he needed.

"Yeah well done genius!" He snapped at Adam.

"Aaron said you'd know what it was about!" Adam shouted back.

"He said that...?" Robert said softly causing Adam to nod his head.

"Yeah." Adam puffed out his chest, "And I want to know what he meant, what dodgy stuff have you got him involved in?" 

Robert frowned, Aaron wouldn't want Adam to know anything. 

"I —" 

"Has this got 'out to do with the scrapyard?" Adam seethed. "I swear Robert...you selling dodgy copper again." 

Robert sighed thinking back to his scheming ways and resenting the fact that Adam knew.

"Robert if he's in trouble and you've not helped him, I swear." Adam seethed causing Robert to nod his head and try to reassure Adam.

"What makes you think he's in trouble, how did he act? Was he scared, nervous, angry?" Robert said quickly trying to gather his thoughts and focus on how Aaron would be feeling.

Adam shook his head,                                                                                                                                                 "You know what I shouldn't have bothered telling ya...I'll sort it myself!" 

Robert gulped had and then turned towards the end of the road his hands shaking as he thought about letting Aaron down once more.

"No...let me!" 

"Why 'cos you care so damn much is that it?!" Adam shouted back obviously frustrated.

"Yeah quite a bit actually-" 

Adam scoffed.

"You see it like it's the most obvious thing in the world!" 

                                                                          It is to me.

Robert thought to himself before deciding against the soppy outburst. Robert shook his head realising that all this petty squabbling with his brother in law was just wasting time.

"Leave this to me...I know what to do." Robert whispered as he charged towards his car and slammed the door shut leaving Adam feeling even more worried.

 

*^*

There was no stoping Robert as he drove down the country lanes intent on making sure Joel knew that the investigation was clearly over. The thought of making Joel feel worthless and unwanted was good enough to make the nervous feeling melt away. Sliding into a dead end, Robert managed to calm down and bring up Joel's details on his phone. Instantly catching the attention of Joel's address that he never had to use, Robert typed the address into his satnav. The thought of turning up at Joel's home in the middle of the day unannounced was something that made him feel overwhelmed. But he had to, he had to confront him and make sure he understood before things got worse.

Robert continued driving for another few miles fuelled with the anger still, Robert didn't want to draw attention to the shakiness of his hands or the dark thoughts in his mind telling him that Aaron wouldn't cope. It was too much to think about and right now working out what to say to Joel was his priority.

Aaron walked for what felt like hours until he found himself walking down the country lanes alone and in need of company. The cars drove passed quickly not given the lonely lad a second glance as they went about their buinsesss, a part of Aaron was grateful for the lack of attention, it was something that he rarely got. The quiet was something he craved for almost everyday, years of suffering made him need stillness and calm once in a while.

The lack of sound made things seem clearer as Aaron contented to walk slowly on the small path, it made him think about Roberts involvement in the whole mess and how Aaron's past had effected Robert's life. Then his thoughts turned to Diane and how disgusted he still felt about having to lie for the rest of his life about his family's involvement and how they covered it all up. He couldn't face seeing Diane back in the village, see his mum fall apart and hear Robert apologise and want to start over again as friends. A part of Aaron was scared that he would ask for even more, yet the sensible part of Aaron told him it was the guilt talking, making Aaron think that him and Robert were now equal somehow. He couldn't think like that.

The sound of another car driving down the country lane filled Aaron's ears, making him turn around sharply. The van was familiar and caused Aaron to smile as he realised that Jamie was driving.

"You going somewhere?" Jamie shouted slowing the van down and squinting at Aaron who was now approaching the vehicle.

Aaron shrugged his shoulders,
"Nowhere." He whispered looking ahead at the road.

"Mind if I take ya to nowhere?" Jamie asked causing Aaron to smile and nod his head. The walk alone had managed to make him realise that he did need someone to talk to, the quiet wasn't always the best option. Aaron waked round to the passenger seat and slid in next to Jamie, suddenly feeling more relaxed as he realised how tired the walking had made him.

"You alright?" Jamie asked softly as he noticed the tired expression on Aaron's face.

Aaron nodded his head again and looked at Jamie who was seemingly not convinced.

"Right...you sure about that?" Jamie asked again causing Aaron to sigh.

Aaron shook his head before looking toward the floor, "No." Aaron said looking up at Jamie, "No mate I'm not."

Jamie bit down on his lip and edged closer to his friend, "Is this about Robert? Did you end it?"

"He saw us last night." Aaron said quickly.

Jamie sighed, "Did he hear?" 

"No but he wasn't happy, we had a fight and he brought up all this shit from the past." Aaron said bitterly.

"So you...you got some history then?" Jamie said slowly.

"A bucket full." Aaron snapped before sighing loudly and rubbing his head.

Jamie started up the car again and drove them into a small cliff top almost deserted, Aaron stared at Jamie and felt a sense of calm wash over him.

"I'm er...I'm all ears you know." Jamie said sweetly making Aaron smile softly. He knew he needed to tell someone about everything, he couldn't talk to Cain about how he really felt and Jamie was there ready to listen. Aaron thought back to how light and calm he felt that morning because of telling Jamie only a few details about everything.

"It's a long story." Aaron sighed loudly.

"Ain't got another delivery 'til four." Jamie said leaning back on his seat and staring out onto the country side.

Aaron blinked softly, "Me and Robert, we...we were never really together."

"How do you mean?"

"It was an affair well on his part...he was engaged." Aaron sighed before shaking his head.

Jamie sat up in surprise, "I've been there." Aaron turned to Jamie "Being the bit on the side."

Aaron felt his heart race as he saw the hurt in Jamie's voice and realised that he wasn't really alone in his thoughts.

"Callum." Jamie said with a weak smile on his face "he said he was happy...but that he loved me too" he continued before shaking his head.

"Yeah...same here." Aaron said laughing weakly at the comparisons. "But I'm assuming this Callum was with a fella not engaged to a woman."

Jamie sat wide eyed as he realised what Aaron meant, "Bisexual then.” He whispered causing Aaron to nod.

"Seemed like he preferred people knowing it was just women he fancied though" Aaron mumbled.

"Right then." Jamie said softly shifting on his seat.

"And today...he practically blamed me for ruining his marriage." Aaron spat angrily "Made me feel so guilty when I already do"

"I'm sure he didn't mean it." Jamie said slowly.

Aaron scoffed and slid down, "You don't know Robert."

Jamie nodded.

"He made me feel worthless time and time again, I...he destroyed me Jamie and I kept taking him back 'cos I loved him"


"At least...well maybe you got a lucky escape then...maybe this was the wake up call ya needed before you started thinking about forgiving him and taking him back after everything"


Aaron nodded his head and felt a sense of relief flow through him quickly,
"I just wish I hadn't of done this whole stupid plan, I just shoulda moved on"


Jamie agreed quickly,
"Are you sure your mum can't...can't she handle herself?"


"I thought she was...and then this morning I caught her having a panic attack" Aaron snapped.

Jamie looked away from Aaron for a minute, "I'm sorry."

"Don't be..." Aaron mumbled.

"Maybe...maybe if you just tell me what you're protecting her from...I can help" Jamie said softly not wanting to push Aaron to breaking point.

“You can't..." Aaron sighed.

"Try me." Jamie said back making Aaron consider revealing everything to him. 

Aaron rolled his head back and began,
"You know Diane...the woman who runs the other half of the pub with me mum."

Jamie nodded, "The one in hospital." Aaron frowned wondering how he knew "I heard Victoria saying something about visiting her."

"Yeah well she got stabbed." Aaron said quietly as he looked away from Jamie, avoiding his shocked expression.

"Stabbed? Oh my-"

"Yeah." Aaron said not wanting to hear any more reaction from Jamie.

"But she's in the mend right?" Jamie asked anxiously cashing Aaron to nod his head.

“Yeah she's...she's gonna be just fine." Aaron said lying slightly he didn't really know anything about lasting damage but Jamie looked like he needed to know she was going to be okay.

Jamie let out a sigh of relief and then frowned, "Wait what's that got to do with your mum?"

Aaron hesitated causing Jamie to raise his eyebrows and signal for Aaron to continue.

"You're gonna hate me." Aaron whispered suddenly scared of the possibility that Jamie would kick him out of the car and onto the curb without giving him a second thought.

Jamie reached out and patted Aaron's back reassuringly, “Trust me."

Aaron gulped hard and signed before looking around and feeling sick with worry, here he was sitting in some delivery guys van spilling all his darkest secrets to some bloke he had only met yesterday, yet Aaron trusted him more than most people. It was odd, a sense of loyalty he knew Jamie had for him that made him feel safe, secure and able to carry on.

"The reason why I'm protecting my mum, is because she was the one stabbed Diane and I can't let her go to prison for it.” Aaron said before finally letting the tears fall messily as he saw Jamie's face fall to the ground in shock.

 

 

Chapter Text

Another half an hour passed by the time Robert finally pulled up to where Joel lived. It was run down estate with broken windows and littered with rubbish bags and old broken toys. Robert chuckled to himself remembering how legit and well off he thought Joel was when he first heard of him.

Robert took one final look towards his phone and smiled at the picture of Aaron tied to settle any lingering thoughts that made him nervous.

Slamming the door shut, Robert felt a pair of eyes burning into him which slowly made his heart rate increase.

"You want summat?" Robert snapped as he turned round and saw a group of teenagers sniggering in his direction.

A girl who looked no older than fourteen suddenly let out a huge laugh as she fell back onto a boy who seemed slightly older.

The girl had black hair and donned thick black eyeliner yet Robert could still see her striking blue eyes that managed to catch his attention, she was obviously playing up, Robert was used to it after seeing Victoria do the same thing years ago.

The boy she was leaning on suddenly pushed her away and shook his head seemingly embarrassed by the girls exaggeration.

"What you doing round here?" another boy called out. "Took a wrong turn?" The  boy had a brown mop of hair covering his face and was fiddling with a lighter in his hand. Robert scoffed as he turned the other way, a part of him wanting to spill all about why he had ended up on such a rough area of town - just to freak them out a bit.

Robert turned back round to the estate and peered at the doors, before pulling out his phone and peering at the full address which told him that Joel lived at number thirty three. Robert felt his heart race wildly and a desperate need to have Aaron by his side filled him with dread as he realised that it wasn't possible.

Instead Robert turned back round to the group of teenagers suddenly feeling the need to ask about Joel.

"I don't suppose you know a bloke called Joel?" Robert asked moving closer to the group.

The group turned towards each other and pulled faces before an older looking lad stared up at Robert.

"Er Price?" Robert nodded quickly.

"Yeah...I know him." A voice called out.

"Friend of yours?" Robert called out bitterly as he imagined Joel having some sort of social life.

The boy pulled another face suggesting his disgust at the thought, "Please!"

Robert friended but hesitating in questioning as the girl from earlier chirped up, "People like him don't have mates. Joel keeps himself to himself."

"Total creep if ya ask me!" another voice called out.

Robert stood staring for a minute thinking about how easily Joel was able to lie to him for weeks, soon Robert's mind filled with dread again, what else was he lying about?

Robert nodded his head and mumbled some sort of thank you in the teenagers direction before walking across the cluttered street and finding Joel's door. It looked broken and rusty and once again clouded the image Robert had of this manipulative clever man who had managed to pull the wool over his eyes for so long.

 

^*^

 

Robert thought about knocking, he had to really - it was the middle of the day and kicking down the scum bags door wouldn't look too great. Robert tensed as his fingers traced the door handle and pulled away suddenly as he realised that the door was open. Robert edged closer building up the courage to move forward and walk into the flat, instantly the smell of alcohol and other drugs filled his senses making him feel dizzy as he walked across the cluttered floor and studied the mess as best he could in the dimming light.

The place looked run down, completely trashed as if it hadn't been cleaned in months - dirty plates filled the kitchen and dozens of newspapers trailed towards the living room where the curtains hung lazily.

Robert looked round and saw a picture that caught his eye. It was Joel, he looked younger more full of life, holding onto someone who Robert presumed was his mum. She was smiling and so was he and Robert felt sick as he realised that it must have been taken after the assault on Aaron, he looked too old for it to have been taken before.

Robert ripped his eyes away and then suddenly stepped back as his eyes fell on something even more alarming.

 

AARON LIVESY CHARGED WITH GBH - SENTENCING TO COME

 

LOCAL LAD COMES OUT IN COURT - Aaron Livesy admits to his sexuality in court and avoids a prison sentence.

 

ASSISTED SUCIDE TRAIL COMMENCES - Aaron Livesy is up on trial today following the death of his partner Jackson Walsh.

 

Robert shuddered as he looked down at the newspapers, the many copies that littered a section of Joel's flat. Every single newspaper documenting any events in Aaron's life that was seen in the public eye since he left his father.

Why did Joel have them?

Was he obsessed with Aaron?

"You know I was wondering when you'd show up here." Joel said wickedly before appearing from the darkness near the doorway.


Robert turned round quickly forcing himself to look away from the newspaper clippings, "Joel." He stated trying his hardest to cling onto the harshness in his tone.

Joel smiled at Robert before entering the room and staring at Robert intensely just as Robert looked back mirroring the intense glare and looking at the complete state that Joel had suddenly become.

His hair was floppy and messy, his eyes not as sharp as he remembered appearing slightly normal in comparison to the heavy bags that sat below them.

"How's Aaron?" Joel smiled before laughing and folding his arms.

Robert was practically shaking with anger as he stared at Joel, unable to respond.

"See, I did a little experiment Robert. Since the beginning I thought you were a bit...odd, attached and quite frankly a loser..."

Robert shook his head looked towards the exit suddenly fearful of what Joel could do next.

All he wanted was to see Aaron again before it was too late.

Until too much damaged had been done.

"But that wasn't my business really was it? I had a job that I needed to do and your life didn't matter all that much to me-"

"A job?" Robert spat finally being able to look Joel in the eye. "Is that what you call it eh? More like some sick vendetta."

Joel smirked before throwing his fist towards Robert and powerful striking his jaw.

Robert stumbled back trying to catch his breath as he held onto his face and saw the blood trickle onto his hand.

Joel frowned slowly as he walked towards Robert, "I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that and carry on with what I was trying to say before you so rudely interrupted me."

"I don't want to hear it!" Robert shouted overwhelmed with some energy that the hit had evoked causing Joel to roll his head back in frustration and then look back to Robert more seriously.

"Oh I think you do." Joel whispered sending shivers down Robert's spine.

Robert looked up at Joel and saw a complete stranger, nothing like the man who he had a drink with a few weeks ago. The carefree only slightly guarded young man who seemed so happy to help.

Now he was just cold, nothing warm about Joel was present anymore. It was gone and now Robert could see his true colours. The colours that hade painted Aaron all those years ago.

Chapter Text

Robert felt his heart race wildly he couldn't believe he was in Joel's dirty flat, his hand covering in blood and his head hurting. It was a roaring rage that kept him in the flat, the need to get answers for Aaron.

"You see I had one thing in mind when I heard about your case. Aaron Livesy. The sick fuck who ruined my life all those years ago, he made everything bad for me. After I kicked him not touch I had nothing, no job, no money, no future. I wanted revenge and then you come to me, from Emmerdale village - the exact village Aaron lived in with his insect family The Dingles."

Joel turned to Robert and smiled, "I'm sure you've heard of them eh."

Robert gulped hard feeling sick as he heard the way Joel spoke about Aaron and his family. He nodded quickly and stared towards the hallway.

"It was as if it was a sign from God when I heard that Aaron was still around ... back from his adventures and living at home with mummy. Then you tell me about Diane, handing me this case and trusting me to help ya find out what happened. Oh Robert. I mean at first I must admit I was a bit curious but then you told me it happened at the pub. Poor Diane was stabbed in her own pub where Aaron lives. After that it was almost too easy getting information. The only thing in my was was you, getting you on side well that...tougher than I thought." Joel said chucking at the end and shaking his head at Robert.

Robert felt almost trapped in the room with the vile sick man, he couldn't just leave now - his intrigue to find out more about Joel's obvious issues was overwhelming.

"I thought, bless this man not thinking the worst of an obvious family friend. I honestly felt sorry for ya. But then ... you got more adamant and I got more curious as to why..."

Robert gulped hard realising that Joel was now hinting at his relationship with Aaron.

"Even after I told you about his track records, telling you that he was bad news and that he must have been involved, you didn't want to hear it...as though you didn't want to believe that he had anything to do with it at all."

Robert shifted slightly before shaking his head and deciding not to respond.

"So I finally looked you up, had a good little read and I found out some interesting stuff. Stuff about you and your charming wife, your growing business and then I saw this investment in a local business. Your father in law had invested some money into Aaron's little scrap yard didn't he?"

Robert nodded his head slowly.

"But not before you gave them ten grand!" Joel laughed, "Ten grand for a little scrap metal business." Joel walked towards the hallway and back again. "Anyways after my little research I was confused to say the least, why wouldn't you tell me that you was an investor in Aaron's buisnesss? Why wouldn't you even mention how obviously close you were...you see it just didn't add up."

Joel smiled again at Robert. "But then I discovered something else, you got shot didn't ya?"

Robert tensed all over suddenly the realisation that Joel would only have to take one look at a police report to know who was charged with his attempted murder - amongst the rest.

"Here look." Joel said as he passed Robert over a crumpled up news paper with his face plastering the front, "That's you isn't it?"

Robert nodded his head again as he stared down at the image, then his eyes fell to the text beneath and instantly he felt his heart race.

 

Local male Aaron Livesy has been charged with the attempted murder of his former lover Robert Sugden - who is still critically ill in hospital.

 

"I mean I couldn't believe it really..." Joel said snatching the paper from Robert's hands.

"When did you-" Robert who's perked trying to keep it together.

"When did I find out you're just as bad as he is right after I visited your step mum." Robert turned away. "I just knew something wasn't quite right."

"It all makes sense now...you had some epic love affair right!" Joel said sarcastically, "And then you get shot, he gets banged up and then you rescue him. Then this happens and you wanna be the hero all over again. Jesus you must be desperate!"

Robert squirmed, "You don't know anything about me and Aaron, nothing."

Joel stared at Robert, "What am I supposed to care?" He snapped.

Robert shook his head suddenly shaking as he heard Joel's voice grow louder, instantly his thoughts turned to Aaron and how scared he must have been all those years ago as Joel towered over him.

Joel sensed Robert's panic and leant against the wall, "I actually was gonna give you the benefit of the doubt, thought maybe you were just confused and that it was only a few quick fucks between you two, so I texted Aaron this morning."

Robert breathed quickly as he looked at Joel, "How did you even get his number-"

"It's easy Robert..." Joel said acting proud of himself, "Anyways I told myself that if you showed up here...then you must of seen him must still be seeing him." Joel looked disgusted, "And then here you are, I send one little text to him and you come straight here to defend his honour."

Robert turned away from Joel, angry that he had seemingly fallen for Joel's plan.

"He doesn't deserve this." He whispered before shaking his head.

Joel stood up and looked towards Robert,
"He ruined my life!"

"Yeah and you nearly ruined his." Robert spat back.

Joel nodded his head, "I take it he told ya..."

"About you making his life a misery for years constantly teasing him, hurting him and then...beating him up as badly as you did" Robert said almost chocking on his words.

Joel blinked and pointed at Robert,
"Someone needed to kick the gayness out of him. Obviously didn't work though did it.” He said quickly staring at Robert with disgust.

Robert gulped hard, "You're sick."

"Me?" Joel spat back walking towards Robert. "You and him, that's what sick!"

Robert edged away suddenly feeling overwhelmed, "He was just a kid." He whispered before wiping the tears from his eyes away.

Joel turned his back on Robert, "Yeah and so was I. And I lost everything, no one cared...me uncle stopped trying and...and I had nothing."

Robert frowned, "But I thought...you said that you had been doing all this since you were eighteen."

Joel turned back round, "Had to make you think I was legit so you could trust me."

Robert scoffed, "Yeah that's worked out great."

Robert blinked quickly as he tried to gather his thoughts, Joel had been lying about the simplest of things - he was dangerous now Robert knew everything was just a lie. "So what you lied about everything sneaked around and got these files on me and him just to make sure he gets sent down for something?"

"How many more times...he is the reason I'm like this. Living here, doing this."

Robert frowned this man was inane he thought as he shook his head, "He didn't ask you to beat him black and blue! After everything his been through...you should know" Robert looked towards the papers on the floor with Aaron's name all over them "all the bad stuff that happened to him, hasn't he paid enough?"

Robert said thinking back to how difficult Aaron's life had been long before he came around and using it to try and appeal to Joel's sick nature.

"He's been in and out of that flipping court room how many times yet he's still here he's still loved..."

Robert shook his head completely shocked by how messed up and broken Joel looked. It was scary to see and his mind was churning with emotions, he no longer felt fearful of the man but almost wary of his mental state.

"This isn't the right way..." Robert whispered. "Fixating on the past isn't going to help things for the future..."

Joel was nearly crying now as he stared down at the image of Aaron on the local newspaper, "You know I never thought he'd be truly happy, little fairy like him...but then after I found out about you and him...I realised he must have been the bloke that you were talking about at the restaurant that time we met. The person you fell 'hook, line and sinker' for. He must of known you loved him...he must of felt loved."

Robert stared wide eyed at Joel who was almost gazing into space as he spoke. He was a complete mess and it was making Robert feel even more nervous.

"Yeah he knew, he knows."

Joel scoffed, "Does he love you?"

Robert stood silent for a minute before deciding to answer. Aaron hadn't told him he loved him more than once before but a small part of Robert wanted to believe that Aaron's love was almost undying.

"Er I think so."

Robert looked up at Joel, instantly making assumptions about the lack of love the man felt in his life and the deep rotted jealously and hate he felt for anyone who was pushing thought it all whilst he obviously struggled. Joel looked ridiculously broken and small in comparison to how powerful he appeared minutes ago.

The topic of love was definitely a sore point.

Joel wiped his head with his hand and shook himself before looking at Robert and coughing, "Yeah well sorry about that but it looks like I've got to break up your little love affair." His voice was bitter again.

Robert frowned, maybe if he had said no Joel wouldn't have acted this way.

"You don't even have any evidence Joel...you can't honestly think that-"

"With his past record and well maybe a few favours I can make it work-"

Robert walked towards the hallway shaking his head as the finally felt sick and dizzy enough to leave the flat entirely.

"Where you going?" Joel said frantically.

Robert turned round and took advantage of the weakness in Joel's voice,
"Away from here, I don't ever want to see you again" Joel stood still as Robert raised his voice. "You stay away from the village, from my family and if you even think about seeing Aaron, texting him and threatening him again. I'll make you pay."

Joel nodded, it wasn't an agreement though at all as Robert could still see the revenge in his eyes. It wasn't over between them Robert thought as he walked out of the dirty flat...but Robert didn't care all of a sudden his emotions spilled out and the anger and confusion he felt made him feel sick once more.

He needed to see Aaron, he was all he needed.

 

^*^

 

Aaron exhaled sharply, saying the words aloud was enough to make him feel dizzy. Jamie's expression defeated him as he looked at the confusion and despair continue to grow and blur Aaron of the kind and gentle man he was sitting with a few minutes ago.

"Wait what?" Jamie said after allowing it all to sink in. Aaron just stared at him trying his hardest not to break down again, he desperately tried to read his expression and figure out how he was feeling but it was harder than he thought. Aaron turned away giving up on the idea and feeling sick with fear.

"You're...telling me that your mum s-stabbed Diane and then that's why you're doing all this, to protect her."

Aaron nodded, "I didn't want to —"

"But when Robert hired someone-"

"I panicked and knew that he could easily get me mum to crack and find out stuff from his little investigator" Aaron said suddenly before pulling back as he thought about Joel.

"So lying to him, getting yourself involved with the man that hurt ya, t-that was the only way." Jamie said softly as more as a statement but the negativity inside him told Aaron that he questioning him.

Aaron frowned before staring at Jamie.

Jamie instantly realised that Aaron thought he was judging him and shook his head, "Aaron I'm not — I'm just tryna understand..."

Aaron sighed grateful for the softness in his friends voice, "I know." Aaron bit his lip, "I didn't want to do it but my uncle Cain he offered to scare him out of it with his fists."

Jamie rolled his head back.

"I didn't want that happening..." Aaron mumbled looking towards the floor and thinking back to the time when Cain had beaten Robert black and blue. The guilt and nervousness that raced through him as he rescued his on/off lover was enough to make him feel the desperate need to ever let that happen again. 

His feeling inisde though wasn't just sheer panic and frustration and there was no point in trying to fight in for any longer, despite the threat of Cain and the pain his mother was going through, he couldn't tell himself that Robert didn't mean something to him again. Of course he did, he always had meant something. Despite the arguments and the lies, the deceits and secrets that plagued them Aaron's love for Robert was unwavering and once again the guilt rushed over him. 

Why did he agree to this stupid plan?