The house is quiet when they go.
Robert’s already got the car packed, is triple checking the itinerary, is ignoring Aaron as he grumbles over his thermos full of coffee. Aaron keeps grumbling anyway.
“I’m not sittin’ with you in the plane if you snore,” Robert teases, when he’s pulling out of the driveway. The sun’s just starting to stir, and there’s fog at the windscreen; a pink and purply hue beckoning for them in the distance.
“Little late for that, 12F, you’re stuck by the window.”
Robert laughs. It’s a good sound.
The plans had started small.
A few nights in a nice hotel, dinner and a movie. It had been enough for Aaron - anything but Emmerdale was going to be enough - but he could see that Robert was unconvinced, like all the things he wanted were sizzling under his skin. He couldn’t keep still.
“Seriously?” Aaron had said, when Robert handed him the tickets, watching how Robert’s grin unfurled so slow and so sure. It was infectious.
“Yep. Six nights, a room looking over the water. “
“Oooh, beachfront mate,” Adam crowed from the kitchen. “You won’t even have to get out of bed.”
“Get nicked,” Aaron bit back, but he could feel his skin going hot anyway, could feel the tangibility of it all. Just him and Robert and no one, nothing else.
“I sorted it with Chas, and I talked to Liv - ”
“If she thinks having me gone means she can skive off - ”
“Relax,” Robert cut in and the smile had turned into a laugh. “I worked it out, okay? Trust me.”
Aaron doesn’t say, I do.
The rental car is black, sleek.
Aaron puts his seat back, puts his glasses on, concedes control over the radio to Robert. It’s okay, they’ve always had similar tastes with music - though finding Robert’s Oasis collection had been pretty harrowing (“Don’t pretend you don’t like Wonderwall, Aaron, come on.”).
“Eighties ballads are out,” Aaron murmurs under his breath, and the last thing he hears before he falls asleep is Robert scoffing, feels Robert’s hand curling around his thigh.
At some point his own hand must have settled over Robert’s, their fingers linked together when Robert nudges him awake. He’s saying softly, “Aaron, look, look.”
It’s a splash of colour out the window, greens and whites and blues and water. Aaron can’t sit up fast enough. He feels like he’s winded, unable to stop the, “Wow,” that rushes out, squeezing Robert’s hand without thinking. He can smell it, something strong and new, something he’s sure will always remind him of this. Of them.
“Your mum told me you loved the beach,” Robert says softly, and Aaron smiles at the memory.
“Yeah,” he says.
He loves a lot of things, now.
The room’s not very big.
It’s cosy, though, has enough for what they need. The big, palatial bed and the hundred TV channels and the free standing bath that Aaron wouldn’t normally be tempted by. He is though, he’s tempted a lot.
“Let’s go out,” Robert murmurs against Aaron’s mouth, above him and over him and warm. Aaron chases another kiss, curls his fingers in Robert’s dry, sea-air hair.
“Let’s get drunk,” Aaron amends, and Robert doesn’t argue as he climbs off to go and get his wallet.
There’s bustling night life, lots of lights and sounds and confusion. Aaron feels a little caged for the first few beers, presses his thigh against Robert’s and keeps their heads ducked close together.
There’s locals and tourists and good natured teasing, a few young blokes in fluro cooing at how ‘cute’ they are. Aaron just hears himself laugh.
“You look good like this,” Robert says over their dinner, his cheeks pink from the beer and the heat, his tongue leaving his bottom lip glossy. Aaron’s dazed.
“You know,” Robert shrugs, and their knees press together. “Happy.”
Liv calls the first day in.
Aaron clutches at the phone, presses it so close to his ear it goes hot. He wants to tell her that this isn’t about her, that he didn’t leave to get away from her; that being a brother is like sliding a frame into focus. He can see his life, and know himself, so much better now.
“Gabby reckons Manchester’s good,” Liv says and,
“You don’t let that girl in my house, you got it,” Aaron says and she giggles so much she hiccups.
Later when his mum takes the phone, it’s quiet, then,
“You alright, love?”
She pauses. “I mean, you know, really alright?
“It’s just been a long time since you’ve been so far away from me,” she admits, and Aaron manages to hold back a tear.
“Except we’ve never been closer, yeah?”
Aaron’s getting used to waking up next to Robert.
Slowly. The first few times he’d get up through the night, feel suffocated to the point of being sick. Not just suffocated by Robert’s breath and limbs and weight and presence; but with knowing that he’d chosen Aaron, wanted Aaron, stayed.
(Robert had caught him sneaking back in one morning, said, “I can stop - ” but Aaron had kissed him. He’d dug his fingernails in, and kept him, because the thought of Robert leaving had made him feel worse.)
“What’s the time?” Aaron asks when Robert rolls in close, buries his face in Aaron’s neck and grabs a hip. The curtains are thick, and the room’s dark, but they’d gone to bed late, it can’t be early.
“Does it matter?”
Robert laughs. “No, really? You?”
Robert’s slow to crawl on top of him, nosing along Aaron’s jaw and rubbing thighs; he’s slow to start anything except fleeting touches, his palm heavy over Aaron’s shoulder, belly, giving his dick a quick tug. It takes too long for Aaron and he paws at Robert’s neck, pulls him down into an open mouthed kiss. It’s a little sour, and dirty, but it’s enough to set the tone, enough to spur Robert on.
“So much for foreplay,” he says rough, a breath of a laugh, a gasp when Aaron’s free hand finds his arse.
“I don’t play,” Aaron says, but they both know he’s lying, and they both know he likes it just as much.
Each touch is like heat and like ice and like that moment when you’re not sure which is which. He’s ragged and panting and waiting for more but Robert’s got him, got a tight hand around the shaft. His voice is full of worn in promises, so sure and so definite, saying,
“Let me know,” like he does.
“Yeah,” Aaron says, and, “Please, Robert,” and when he moves down the bed, moves down enough that Aaron can feel the hot pool of his breath on his dick he promises again,
“Aaron,” to be sure.
“Robert,” he says back, and his hand is on Robert’s face, and his eyes flutter closed as Robert opens up and takes him in.
He’s so ready to be taken in.
Robert takes a lot of photos.
They’re of Aaron, mostly, sometimes of both of them, the water a stark blue in the background. He takes photos of the usual things, the brochure things, but also of weird stuff. Of a funny looking bug that crawls through their window one night; of the meal they ordered at 1am; of strangers who just smile agreeably.
“What are you gonna do with them?” Aaron asks, as they huddle in a booth in a bar one night, Aaron flicking through the camera. The football’s on, and Aaron loves this song, and Robert’s playing with a hole in Aaron’s sleeve.
“They’re already on Facebook.”
Aaron rolls his eyes. “I meant like an album, or somethin’.”
“Maybe,” Robert says and the way he says it makes Aaron look up. He’s smirking. “Is that a hint?”
“Yeah, Robert, I’m secretly hoping you make me a pretty photo album.”
“Don’t joke. Vic’s been teaching me some seriously good scrapbooking skills. I could do it you know.”
“Too bad she hasn’t got a fancy wedding to scrapbook,” Aaron says without thinking, realises how that sounds a beat too late. “I mean - ”
“Right,” Robert says slowly, still fiddling with Aaron’s shirt, still smiling. “Or, you know, babies, and a new home, and a dog - ”
“Sod off,” Aaron barks, pushing at Robert until he’s half out the booth and has a leg in the air. When he comes back with beer, when he settles in close again, Aaron tells him quietly, definitively,
“We’ll be getting a dog,”
and he wishes he had a camera to take a photo of Robert’s smile.
They wander through a seaside market.
Aaron buys womens jewellery, mostly, a funny shirt for Adam. He takes a picture on his phone and writes banter and Adam sends back an emoji that probably doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.
Robert finds some home-made chocolate, some sweets that Aaron has to wrestle off him, a couple of frames for their pictures. He finds a silly hat, and tells Aaron it’s for him, for the days he runs out of hair gel.
“Let me buy you an ugly shirt for the days ending in Y,” Aaron bites back and Robert pulls Aaron over with an arm around his neck, knuckles his head, keeps him there.
They get food, and chat to locals, and walk by the water again. They head back through some side streets, get a little lost, get caught in a wobbly little alley until Aaron pushes Robert up against a wall to kiss.
He keeps his hands clenched tight in Robert’s collar, and Robert keeps his fingers crooked at Aaron’s lower back and he wonders how long he could do this until he tired of it. The gentle nips, the scraping of tongue over teeth, the press of lips and breathless gasps.
“Thank you,” Aaron says hurriedly, inbetween, “This is - thank you.”
Robert’s eyes are closed when he says, “You too.”
They fight on the last night.
Aaron figures they were due for one. He’s not sure what he says to get here, not sure why he’s angry, or why Robert is, but it happens. He knows it will keep happening. It’s how they’ve always mixed, explosive.
“You drive me crazy, you know that?” Robert bellows, red in the face and throwing his arms around like he’s part of some ridiculous pantomime.
“Jesus, Robert, take a number,” Aaron yells back, perched by the window and chewing on a nail. “There’s loads of people in that queue.”
“No, there’s not, that’s what I’m talking about.”
Robert sighs, and folds up onto the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. “I’m not your mum, or Liv,” he says quietly, not looking up. “I’m not Adam.”
“Of course you’re not.”
“I compete every day for you, you know that, yeah? I wait for you, over and over, and it’s fine, I understand, but I just want you to work for it too.”
“What, like I never have?”
“Yeah, you did, but what about now? What about right now when I ask you about that place For Sale and you don’t even know what I’m saying.”
Aaron hears the silence like a clattering bang. Like a glass wall breaking around him and he can finally see what he was looking past. “I - ”
“I love you Aaron,” Robert says with a sigh, with a tired and settling voice. When he looks up he’s open, flushed and honest. “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my whole stupid life and I have to know that you do too. That when you think about tomorrow, and next year, and ten years from now, that your life will still be with me.”
Aaron trembles. He feels it from his head to his feet.
It wasn’t what he thought he’d hear, as much as he knew it, or felt it. It wasn’t what he thought he deserved.
“Fuck,” he manages to grit out, clawing at his crying eyes, and stumbling over to Robert. He falls down next to him and clings on, presses a cheek into his shoulder to croak out, “Fuck. Course I love you, idiot, f’course I …”
“Don’t let me forget it, okay, I don’t want to forget,”
“I love you.”
It’s quiet when they get home.
His mum has left a note on the fridge, left a few things for them to eat if they need. Someone had written at the bottom - probably Liv - but it had been scratched out and Aaron couldn’t read it.
“Tea?” Robert asks, almost like he’s not expecting an answer, coming up to put his hands on Aaron’s hips, put his forehead on Aaron’s shoulder.
“Nah, I’m knackered, let’s just go to bed, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Robert says but he holds Aaron in place, Aaron's hand coming up to curl in Robert’s hair, to just stay like that for a while.
There’s nowhere else they need to be.