The sitting room of Smithy Cottage had a warm and cosy feel to it that Jackson found immediately appealing. He peered around with interest at his first look at Aaron's home, noting the way the room seemed to reflect a little of each of the people that lived there. He guessed that the dried flowers dotted about the place and the thickly layered throws and cushions that made the worn sofas look so comfortable and inviting were the work of Rhona. The ridiculously large flat panel TV, games system and shelves of action movies and games practically screamed 'bloke' so he figured were down to Paddy and/or Aaron, and the brightly coloured crayon drawings haphazardly blu-tacked to the walls at knee height were most likely Brennan's latest works of art... Though having seen the doodles that Aaron would unconsciously draw on any available piece of paper whilst they chatted over a coffee in the garage office, the pictures on the wall might only appear to be the work of a three year old he thought to himself with a grin.
He sobered as his mind turned to his boyfriend and his eyes settled on the younger man. Aaron was sat hunched in the corner of one of the sofas with his arms wrapped around his shins, chin resting on his knees as he absently chewed on his lower lip and stared vacantly into space. Jackson's heart went out to him. Though the mechanic had agreed to come back into the house and stay for lunch, the trouble with Paddy and Rhona which had blown up out of nowhere was clearly preying on his mind.
With a sigh the contractor wheeled himself across the room wishing that the last half hour or so had never happened and that the two of them were still wrapped up snugly in his bed in Dale Head, blissfully oblivious to everything but each other. It seemed that all too soon the real world had imposed on their new-found happiness.
Jackson reached the sofa and rolled to a stop next to Aaron. He wasn't sure what to do now though. He'd never had to console the younger man before... Should he reach out and give his hand a squeeze? Maybe Aaron was more the sort for a pat on the shoulder and a softly spoken "There, there"? Or would a hug be more appropriate? Perhaps dithering undecided over which method of comforting to employ was worse than picking the wrong one? All these things flashed through the contractor's mind, quickly followed by the thought that he was being ridiculous and should just get on with being Supportive Boyfriend, but before he could do anything Aaron had unfolded, leaned over and wrapped his arms around Jackson's waist.
"I'm sorry." the mechanic whispered.
"Urm... Okay." Jackson replied in confusion, stroking a hand gently over the head which was suddenly lying in his lap "Er... Sorry for what exactly?"
"For acting like a twat... I mean I know I overreacted to what they said and all, I'll fix things with them I promise!"
Jackson frowned. The mechanic almost sounded scared that he was angry and blaming him for the incident.
"Well I'm glad you're going to sort it out but..." the older man paused for a second, unsure whether to say what he felt and possibly put a cat amongst the pigeons, but he wouldn't have Aaron worrying that he thought this was all his fault so continued on "I mean I know I don't know exactly what happened and what was said, but from the sounds of it I'm not really surprised you're pissed off. I think I would be too if I were in your place!"
The younger man sat up and stared at him as if he'd sprouted a second head.
"Ya what?" Aaron asked, brows drawn together in puzzlement.
"Ya what what?" Jackson replied, not really understanding what the mechanic was asking.
"You... You don't think I was being unreasonable?"
"Well from what you told me last night I can't imagine they'd have any reason to think that you'd bring a strange man back here would they?"
"Wow..." the younger man murmured sounding slightly stunned.
"Er... Why wow?" the contractor queried feeling more lost than ever.
"It's just whenever something goes wrong most people automatically assume that it's my fault... It's kinda weird having someone tell me I'm not the one being a muppet!"
"Why do they assume everything's your fault?" Jackson asked.
"Um..." Aaron began "Cos it usually is if I'm honest." he answered blushing.
The older man snorted and shook his head with a wry smile. Whilst he happened to be on his boyfriend's side on this occasion, he could all too well imagine Aaron's tendency to speak his mind when riled being the cause of numerous upsets. And there were days when being riled was the mechanic's default setting. Still, he didn't want Aaron to be miserable and this argument was certainly making him that, anything he could do to help settle the situation could only be a good thing.
"Look, whilst I agree that Paddy and Rhona were in the wrong, is it really worth having a massive falling out over? They seem genuinely sorry for what happened and they quite clearly care for you a hell of a lot and... Well maybe you caught them by surprise? They're just as new to you bringing boys home as you are after all. Parents are renowned for messing that up!"
"I guess..." Aaron frowned doubtfully.
Jackson was suddenly struck with inspiration. Maybe this was an opportune time to share one of the more unpleasant experiences of his life, and perhaps finally some good might come of it?
"The first time I brought a guy home after coming out to my parents, my dad punched me in the face." he said quietly.
Aaron's eyes widened in shock "What? Why?" he exclaimed.
"He just couldn't handle the fact that I was gay. After it happened him and mum had a massive argument and he walked out and never came back. The funny thing was the guy wasn't even gay, he was just a mate from school who'd come back to do some homework with me."
"That's not particularly funny." the mechanic scowled.
Jackson let out a bark of bitter laughter "No, I guess not."
Aaron was back to chewing on his lower lip and had turned his head to look thoughtfully towards the kitchen. The contractor hoped that he was considering how lucky he was in his relationship with the vets and that a small nudge in the right direction would tip the scales once and for all.
"They seem really supportive... Don't let a little mistake break your family apart."
The younger man regarded him for a minute then a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"What's someone as smart as you doing with someone like me?" he asked softly.
"No idea... You're just lucky I guess!" Jackson replied with a cheeky grin and a wink.
The smile bloomed fully on Aaron's face and he leant forward to look Jackson in the eye.
"Yeah I am. And don't think I don't know it." he whispered before closing the gap between them to brush his lips across the older man's in brief but tender kiss.
"Now come on," the mechanic said, climbing to his feet and heading towards the kitchen "Lunch'll be getting cold!"
His mind a blank and his whole body tingling from the feel of his boyfriend's lips against his own, Jackson could do nothing but wordlessly follow.
This day was turning out very strangely indeed. For sometime now his life had seemed quite steady... He got up in the mornings, went to work, maybe went for a drink afterwards or to the gym, went home, had his tea, and eventually went to bed. Day in, day out that was pretty much the routine and he stuck to it. Routine meant stability and stability was what he'd always been lacking. Then Jackson had appeared on the scene and routine and stability had gone out the window it seemed.
Ever since he'd first laid eyes on the older man his emotions had been in turmoil. One second he'd want to spend as much time with him as possible, the next he'd be certain that keeping his distance would be best. One minute he'd feel on top of the world because of some stupid joke Jackson had made, the next he was down in the dumps because he'd realise that Jackson being so funny made him like him even more. One day friendship was enough, the next he couldn't abide the thought that they'd never have anything more. Then last night his quite literally wildest dreams had come true.
Many people might say that as dreams go, meeting someone in a club, going home with them and sleeping with them isn't terribly wild. But for Aaron that someone had been the one person he wanted more than anyone he'd ever met but who he'd given up all hope of ever having as anything more than a mate. He'd fallen in love with something he'd considered unobtainable then discovered that he could've just reached out and taken it at any time if only he'd had the courage to do so.
For someone who'd spent his life never feeling like he belonged anywhere, that he was never good enough for the people who were supposed to care about him to bother doing so, finding that there was even a chance that the man who's occupied the edge of your every waking thought could possibly be interested in you would be amazing enough. To find that Jackson actually liked him and wanted him in return had completely blown the mechanic's mind. Even after they'd gone back to Dale Head and the contractor had demonstrated several times that he found Aaron attractive, the younger man could still hardly believe that someone as kind and smart and amazing as Jackson would be willing, let alone eager, to be his boyfriend. The moment Jackson said those words had to be the best in his entire life.
Mere minutes later he'd plunged from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Paddy's words had angered him, but even worse was the terrible hurt that had followed, the feeling that he wasn't part of the family. He knew of course that technically he wasn't part of Paddy, Rhona and Brennan's family, but so much time had passed where they treated him as if he was that he'd pushed the fact that this wasn't the case out of his mind. As a child and as a teenager a loving family had been conspicuously absent from his life, and whilst he'd always told himself that he didn't care, when he'd found himself part of one in Smithy Cottage he realised just how much he'd wanted to belong. To feel like that had been snatched away was unbearable. Thank god for Jackson.
It was easy to imagine what would have happened if the older man hadn't made him stop and think. The pain would have festered away inside him, vindication of the belief he used to have that attachment only leads to heartache. He would have pushed them away, Paddy, Rhona, even Brennan... They would've become people who he avoided, just like he avoided his mother even now. Maybe he would even have run away again, left the village for good and gone back to his old habit of never letting anyone get close. He would've missed so much of life, eventually finding himself a lonely, bitter old man with no friends and nobody to care about him.
Aaron smiled to himself. Okay, so maybe he was going a bit far in his extrapolation but he could easily have ruined his relationship with the Kirks. Jackson just seemed to have a way of looking at things from other points of view. That was a skill he'd never been able to master, probably due to the mile long stubborn streak he had running through him, but as soon as the contractor had calmly pointed out that the situation was a new one to everyone and that mistakes were bound to be made, Aaron had known that Paddy hadn't meant to hurt him. He should have been able to see it for himself but he'd been blinded by his injured feelings and the ensuing anger.
And now? Now the roller coaster was on the way up again. He'd walked into the kitchen to find Rhona just setting down the plates of food, Paddy tucking a napkin into Bren's shirt in anticipation of gravy spillages and Clyde lurking under the table waiting patiently for the scraps that inevitably came his way during the course of a Sunday lunch. The two vets had frozen as he came through the door, each of them giving him the same worried look.
Just like always, being stared at had made him want to be somewhere else as quickly as possible but he'd fought the urge and had even managed a slightly strained smile as he took his seat. He'd known then for sure that everything was going to be okay. There could be no clearer evidence of how much his surrogate father cared about him than the look of intense relief that had flooded across Paddy's face as he sat down at the table. Jackson was right, throwing away the love their unconventional little family shared over a silly mistake would be something only an idiot would do. His younger self would have done it with hardly a second thought but he wasn't that person any more.
The trouble was he'd had no idea how to start getting things back on track. He wasn't good with words and feelings and stuff, even at the best of time - with this huge gaping void of awkwardness hanging over them, opening his mouth to say something was a truly terrifying and possibly totally counterproductive prospect. Just as the silence was getting painful his knight in red and white check had come breezing through the doorway.
"Rhona, that smells amazing! I can't remember the last time I have a roast dinner... No wait actually I can... My mum made one last time she came to visit. Set fire to the kitchen curtains... I think I wish I could forget that!" Jackson had rattled off as rolled up to the table and he pretty much hadn't shut up since. Aaron often made fun of the older man for being such a chatterbox, but in this instance he was grateful that his boyfriend could talk the hind legs off a donkey. It meant that he could wind down, only having to throw in the odd few words every now and again to show willing. Plus there was the bonus that he loved listening to Jackson's voice he thought with a smile.
And Jackson was certainly proving to be a hit. The man had a knack of getting along with pretty much anyone, something which never ceased to amaze Aaron who would be the first to admit that he lacked it completely. Paddy and Rhona were proving to be no exception. The three of them had met previously of course – a few times in the pub or when Brennan had decided that a visit on the way back from nursery was in order, but they'd never before really had the opportunity for an extended conversation that they had now. The contractor had them laughing so hard that that Rhona looked like she might slide off her chair if she wasn't careful and Paddy was having to mop his glowing red face with a handkerchief. Aaron, being absorbed in his consideration of life, hadn't really been paying attention but he had a strong suspicion from the way Jackson's eyes were twinkling at him that the laughter was at his expense. Surprisingly he found he didn't mind and just rolled his eyes in exasperation at his boyfriend and went back to picking at his lamb. Under the table a strong hand squeezed his thigh and he was back on top of the world.
The meal progressed and Aaron found that he was enjoying himself. As he'd calmed down he'd begun to pay proper attention to what was being said around him and he was learning things about Jackson that he hadn't known. The vets were asking all sorts of questions that he probably never would've thought to ask. He found out that they'd grown up living less than two miles from each other and had gone to schools which had been bitter rivals in all things sporting; that Jackson had got into building through a work experience placement which had led him to leave school at sixteen and never look back; that his favourite colour was red; that he was allergic to strawberries... Trying to file away all the little facts that were cropping up was making his head spin!
"Aaron gave birth to me!" Brennan suddenly piped up, clearly bored of the current topic of conversation and deciding to start his own.
The mechanic coughed as a piece of Yorkshire pudding went down the wrong way and Paddy had to slap him on the back before he could breathe properly again. Jackson was looking at him with eyebrows raised and a highly amused expression on his face.
"Something you're not telling me?" the older man asked wryly.
Aaron glared at his brother. He was sure that the kid deliberately got things wrong to the worst possible effect.
"I'm sure Uncle Jackson isn't interested in that Bren. And I don't think Clyde's going to be interested in that Brussels sprout you're waving at him under the table." Aaron growled. The smug sense of satisfaction he got from the mirroring glare the little boy shot back at him as Paddy retrieved the offending vegetable and returned it to his plate was short lived though.
"I think you'll find that Uncle Jackson would be incredibly interested in any story that involves you giving birth to a baby actually!" the contractor contradicted him with a broad grin.
"He means Aaron delivered him." Rhona explained "He was quite the hero actu-"
"Please not this story again!" the mechanic groaned. He'd had to sit through it god knows how many times and it never failed to be anything but embarrassing.
"Oh come on! If I'm dating a hero I ought to know about it!" Jackson laughed.
"She's just being dramatic!" Aaron snapped "You know what women are like when it comes to babies... Hormones and stuff... Makes 'em mental. Don't pay any attention to 'er."
"Oi!" Rhona exclaimed "Don't think that you're too old to be bent over my knee young man!"
The idea of that was so patently ridiculous that all he could do was gape at her, and whilst he was lost for words the vet took the opportunity to launch into her story...
So far April had been a thoroughly wet a miserable month and tonight was proving to be no exception. The wind howling off the dales drove the rain so hard against the windows that the sound threatened to drown out the TV. And given that Aaron had taken possession of the remote control that was no mean feat.
Rhona was supposed to be on call, but after she'd slipped on some mud and taken a bit of a tumble whilst visiting a lame sheep up at Butler's Farm a couple of days ago, Paddy had put his foot down and insisted that she start her maternity leave earlier than planned. She'd tried to argue but her husband was having none of it and eventually she'd grudgingly agreed. Unfortunately they hadn't been able to find a locum who could start immediately with the result that Paddy had been permanently on call ever since.
Listening to the storm raging outside the female vet couldn't help but smirk to herself. She would bet a large sum of money that her husband was currently regretting being so stubborn! The fact that this evening he'd had to go and tend to a horse in foal would just add insult to injury – he was scared to death of horses! Maybe when he got back home he'd be more inclined to listen to reason and let her get back to work. She had over two months before she was due and she was sure she could easily manage a few more weeks on the job. Still, she could enjoy being cosy and warm at home for tonight at least.
"Fancy a brew?" she asked Aaron as she levered herself off the sofa. Never taking his eyes off the football match he was watching the young man gave a grunt which she took to mean 'Yes Rhona, a cup of tea would be lovely thank you very much.' Shaking her head she headed for the kitchen. She felt that she ought to be annoyed with his moodiness but her heart wasn't in it. The boy had had it tough since his return to Emmerdale and the past few weeks had been especially rough. The building of the new garage was behind schedule because of the weather and, whilst Aaron hadn't said anything to her or Paddy, she knew that money was becoming tight. Only this morning she'd found him fast asleep at his desk, pages and pages of invoices and sums being used as a pillow. From the quick glance she'd been able to give them Rhona could see that if Aaron was unable to start taking on paying customers soon he'd be in trouble. It was no wonder he was quiet.
The kettle had just boiled and she was taking a couple of mugs out of the cupboard when the first twinge of pain made her hiss. It wasn't bad and Rhona thought maybe she'd pulled a muscle in her side whilst reaching up to the shelf, but then the second came like a knife stabbing her in the gut. The cups fell from her hands, the smash as they shattered on the tile floor mingling with her shriek as she doubled up in agony.
"Rhona?" she heard Aaron call from the living room but she was unable to answer him with her teeth gritted together against the pains that were tearing through her body. And then he was suddenly there, kneeling on the floor beside her, a strong hand gripping her shoulder, his face scared and white as a sheet as she looked up at him through eyes swimming with tears.
"Something's wrong... The baby... I think... I think it's coming!" the vet managed to gasp before a fresh wave of agony took her breath away.
"It can't be!" Aaron practically wailed "It's too soon! Make it stop!"
Despite the situation Rhona managed a bark of laughter at that. If there had been anything she could do she would have done it and done it gladly, but there was nothing for it now other than to pray for the best. Another excruciating spasm brought the crushing terror of the situation crashing back to the front of her mind, and as it subsided and she managed to open her stinging eyes, Aaron was nowhere to be seen.
He'd left her! She couldn't believe that he'd gone! They thought he was past running away when things got tough but apparently they'd been wrong... Of all the times he could have picked to revert to form... She couldn't do this alone, she didn't think she could even call for an ambulance in her present state. Rhona had just opened her mouth to scream a few choice words describing her feelings for the mechanic when he hurried back in with an armful of blankets and pillows and towels. She only had a moment to gape at him before he was fussing around trying to make her as comfortable as possible on the kitchen floor. The vet was glad that he didn't try to move her somewhere else, biting him would've been embarrassing and she already felt bad about thinking the worst of him a few seconds before.
Once she was as comfortable as she was probably going to get given the circumstances, Aaron wrestled his mobile out of his pocket and tapped at the keypad before putting the phone to his ear. A few seconds later he swore and stood scowling at the floor, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Paddy!" he suddenly snapped into the handset "When you get this message you need to come home now! Rhona's having the baby!"
Ending the call the young man had immediately dialled again. Rhona stopped listening for a minute, all she could think about was that Paddy wasn't going to be there. Who knew how long it would take for her husband to check his voicemail? The family that had called him out were experienced horse breeders so they clearly felt he was needed if they'd asked for help... It would be ironic if he missed the birth of his child because he was delivering a foal. Still, he was better equipped to deal with a pregnant horse than a pregnant wife, she could imagine the panic he'd be in if he were here now! She still wished he was holding her hand though...
"HOW LONG?" Aaron's shout brought her back to the situation at hand.
"I don't care what the weather's like, she needs an ambulance right now!" the mechanic yelled as he stalked up and down the length of the kitchen waving his free arm around in agitation "What? I told you, seven months... Well how the hell am I supposed to know how far into the delivery she is?"
Rhona found herself laughing again at the look of horror that spread across Aaron's face at whatever the operator had suggested. Taking pity on him she told him that she didn't think the baby was going to be popping out just yet and the intense relief that practically poured off him as he relayed the news down the phone actually made her feel a little better. That was ruined by his words as he ended the call.
"Um... They say the ambulance could be up to an hour... There's been a lot of accidents on the roads 'cause of the weather and stuff and they're rushed off their feet. They'll be here as soon as the can though."
The next forty five minutes or so were possibly the worst of Rhona's life. Whilst the initial wracking pains seemed to have dulled the fact that she'd had them at all preyed constantly on her mind. Of course she'd been expecting some pain but nothing like this. Together with the fact that she wasn't due to go into labour for another two months there was clearly something wrong and here she was stuck at home with only Aaron to look after her.
Admittedly, after the initial shock had worn off he'd proved to be surprisingly good at being a birthing partner, helping her with her breathing and timing her contractions. She'd demanded to know where he'd learnt that from and he'd shyly admitted to reading some of her birthing books just in case. He'd also helped keep her occupied by telling her some very interesting stories about Paddy that she'd never heard before. She got a vicious sense of glee whenever she thought about bringing them up at some future time when she wanted to make her husband squirm... Probably if he ever suggested that they try for another baby! Then her waters had broken.
This time she hadn't found the look on Aaron's face amusing and had screamed and shouted at him in a tirade that had only been cut off by the strongest contraction yet hitting her with full force. They'd been coming more and more frequently and she could feel the baby wasn't going to wait much longer. Aaron was back on the phone to the emergency services who, if the mechanic's side of the conversation was anything to go by, were being as vague as before about when the ambulance might turn up. She could feel tears streaming down her face as the urge to push became too overwhelming.
"Aaron! It's coming!" she sobbed and he was by her side again in an instant.
All she could remember of the next god knew how long was pain and sweating and screaming, Aaron's voice a steady stream of encouragement, the tinny echo of the emergency operator giving them both instructions from the speaker of the mechanic's mobile irritating beyond belief... And then one last titanic effort and...
"It's a boy!" Aaron exclaimed.
Rhona looked over her knees at the mechanic holding a tiny, messy body to his chest, an expression of utter wonder on his face as he stared down into his arms, and closed her eyes, sagging back against the kitchen cabinet in relief. She'd done it! The baby was here and she could finally rest for a few blessed moments.
She floated exhausted on the edge of consciousness, wishing that she could just fall asleep but some nagging, unrealised worry keeping her awake. Aaron's phone had still been yammering away on the floor next to them but the mechanic had picked it up and moved away slightly, and was now muttering urgently into the handset. Rhona cracked one eye open and saw that the young man had his back to her and was hunched over something on the floor.
"Aaron?" she croaked through dry lips.
He looked over his shoulder at her and she gasped. He looked dreadful. His face was stark white apart from a where a smear of blood streaked his left cheek and his eyes swam with tears which threatened to spill at any moment.
Rhona realised that her baby wasn't crying.
"Aaron what's wrong?" she demanded, struggling to sit up and see what the mechanic was doing. He turned away without answering and went back to muttering into the phone.
"Aaron! Tell me what's wrong!" the vet could feel herself starting to panic as she watched him put the phone down and lean forward. She was almost too weak to move but with the last of her strength she managed to tip herself to one side so that she could just see round the mechanic's back.
The baby was lying on a bed of bloody towels, so small and still and blue that Rhona knew that the breaths that Aaron was blowing into the tiny body before him were pointless. The wail of heartbreak that erupted from her mouth didn't even make the young man pause in what he was doing and for a minute she lay watching him breathe for her baby, watched as with two fingers he gently compressed the infant's tiny chest to work it's heart... It was no good though. She'd known as soon as that first fierce pain had hit that this was going to be the outcome. Maybe it was the fall she'd had or just that she'd worked too hard over the past few months... Maybe she hadn't eaten the right things or done enough exercise... Whatever the cause her child had arrived too soon to even have a chance at life and it was all her fault. She'd thought that the labour had been bad but it was nothing compare to the agony currently shredding her very soul.
Somehow she found the energy to curl up into a ball, blocking out the sight of her lifeless son, and abandoned herself to the tears. How long she lay there sobbing she didn't know but it felt all too soon before the sound of approaching sirens invaded her grief. The ambulance! Oh how she hated that ambulance! If they'd arrived sooner her baby might have survived! She almost couldn't wait for the paramedics to burst in so that she could hit and scratch and spit bloody venom at them, make them feel even a fraction of the pain that their late arrival had caused!
"Rhona..." It was Aaron's voice but uncharacteristically gentle... That seemed to cut through her misery like nothing else might have done. How bad must she be for Aaron Livesy to not be using his usual "Stop being such an old woman." style of compassion. The vet opened her eyes with difficulty, the lids feeling so very heavy and the harsh kitchen lights only adding to her pain. He was leaning over her and he was smiling.
How dare he be smiling at a time like this! She wanted to slap that grin right off his stupid face... In fact the anger that surged through her leant her a sudden burst of strength that would have had her doing just that and more if a small movement hadn't grabbed her attention. Aaron was holding in the crook of one arm what was unmistakably, despite currently being balled up in a loose bundle, his favourite hoody, and sticking out of a fold in the material was a minuscule but perfect little hand waving at her. She found that she didn't want to hit him anymore.
"I still don't believe you thought I'd be that callus." Aaron grumbled around the last of his roast potatoes.
"Hey!" Rhona exclaimed "I'd had the ultimate bad day, being emotional and potentially violent is allowed! Every time I tell that story you have to make a big issue about it!"
"And I never got my hoody back." the mechanic muttered.
"He always says that as well!" the vet informed Jackson who couldn't help but laugh. Only Aaron could do something like save a baby's life and then three years later be holding a grudge about the loss of his favourite top.
"I'll have to remember not to borrow anything off him." the contractor declared "Not that I'd be caught dead in anything he owns mind." he added in a stage whisper to Rhona from behind his hand.
"Oi!" the younger man snapped.
"Yes dear?" Jackson enquired, his eyes glinting mischievously.
Aaron glared at him for a second before letting out a tremendous sigh.
"What on earth is it is that I see in you?" he asked.
"Besides my sparkling wit and devilish good looks you mean?" the older man replied.
"Yeah, lets pretend that those are pretty much non-existent shall we?" Aaron snorted.
"Hmm... Well in that case it must be my massive-" Jackson began but paused for a second as Paddy choked slightly on his drink "...Intellect." the contractor finished with a grin at his boyfriend.
The mechanic was trying very hard not to smile. Jackson could see him fighting to stop his lips twitching up at the corners as Paddy continued to cough and Rhona shook her head at them in amusement. He gave Aaron a cheeky little wink which broke the last of his self control. The younger man put a hand over his mouth and looked away but he couldn't hide the fact that he was smiling broadly from anyone at the table.