“Are you sure about this?”
“Of course, I am, love. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Lorne sighs and tugs nervously at the collar of his sweater. “What if they don’t like me? Then things will just be awkward between you.”
Ianto gives him a look that says he’s quite bored of this conversation, and Lorne can’t blame him. This is the fifth time they’ve had it after all. “I love you, cariadfab. I refuse to let you spend Christmas alone.”
“I could go up to Paisley. Mrs. Beckett invited me.”
“Well, setting aside the fact that it’s Christmas Eve now, and you’ve already told her you weren’t coming, my mum would never forgive me if you backed out now.”
Lorne grimaces, but he won’t argue again. Ianto’s mind is made up and there’s no use trying to change it. Lorne hadn’t really thought he could get out of it at this point anyway. “Okay. I suppose it’s about time I met your family anyway.”
“Yes. Mum’s been asking when we were coming to visit since you moved in. Now can I ring the bell, or would you like to stand out here in the cold a bit longer?”
Lorne gives him a smile that could only be called innocent if you didn’t know him. “Sure, babe. I’m ready now.”
Ianto rolls his eyes and rings the bell. Lorne considers making a break for it for all of ten seconds before the door opens. Lorne barely has time to register the slender, dark-haired woman in the doorway before she’s enveloped Ianto in a hug, which Ianto valiantly attempts to return without dropping the packages he’s carrying.
When he finally extracts himself from her embrace, Ianto gestures to Lorne. “Mum, this is Evan.”
“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am,” he begins, preparing to shake her hand, but she hugs him just as tightly as she had Ianto.
“It’s so good to finally meet you, Evan. Ianto’s told us so much about you.” She pulls back and gives him a quick once-over, hands on his shoulders. She must be satisfied, because she takes his arm and pulls him inside. “Come inside, come inside! You’re frozen stiff! Ianto, get the door, would you, love? How long did he keep you out there, Evan? No matter. Come into the kitchen, and I’ll make you a cuppa. We’ll have you warmed up in no time. Ianto, I’ve put you up in your old bedroom if you want to take your things up. Oh, you’ve brought presents, Evan! How lovely. Ianto, will you put them under the tree? There’s a dear. Milk and sugar, love?”
Lorne can barely keep up with her stream of conversation as he’s led into the kitchen and set down in a chair at the table. She takes the packages from his hands and gives them to Ianto, who balances them on top of his own and takes them all out to the lounge. He nods his agreement to the milk and sugar, and she bustles about preparing a pot of tea.
“Ianto, love, did you want some tea?”
Ianto steps back into the kitchen, smiling indulgently. “That would be lovely, mum.”
“Have you taken your things up?”
“No, they’re still out in the car.”
“Oh, well, you go and get them and take them upstairs, and when you’ve finished your tea will be ready.”
Lorne stands automatically to help Ianto, but he’s pushed immediately back into his chair. “Don’t you dare, dear. Ianto can manage on his own, and it will give us the chance to get to know one another a bit.”
Lorne tries his best to get Ianto to understand his unspoken help me, please, but Ianto just shrugs and heads outside.
“Now, then, love, it’ll just be a minute before the kettle boils. Tell me about yourself.”
Ianto sits on the sofa listening to his dad and brothers talk politics. Evan is across the room, sitting on the floor with Ianto’s niece. She’s wearing her new Christmas dress, bright red with buttons and bows and who knows what else. She’d very proudly informed them that she was a big girl now (‘I’m four now Uncle Ianto!’) and this was a big girl dress. Gwynn is the shyest of Ianto’s nieces and nephews, and while the other girls sit with the adults pretending to know something about politics, or just trying to steal some attention, and the boys seclude themselves upstairs with legos and video games, Gwynn has adopted Evan.
She’d come and stood in front of him as soon as he’d come into the lounge, and Evan had asked her name and smiled. That was all it took apparently, and the next Ianto knew, she’d dragged him off to a corner with her favourite book. Ianto could relate. Evan’s smiles were irresistible.
She’s curled up in his lap now, head tucked under his chin as Evan reads her The Story of Ferdinand for what must be about the fifth time now. Every once in a while, she sits forward to point out something on the page, and Evan always pays studious attention. She’s settled in the crook of one arm, leaving his other free to turn pages.
And every once in a while, Evan looks across the room and smiles at Ianto. It reminds Ianto of how Evan had been when they’d first met, quiet and calm and not quite happy but not quite sad. Ianto wonders if his family is really that traumatising or if Evan is just that nervous. He’s about to get up and go join them when Elsbeth comes in from the kitchen to say that supper is on the table.
Gwynn refuses to let go of Evan, so Evan scoops her up in his arms and carries her to the dining room. In the end, they have to rearrange the table a bit so that Gwynn can sit with ‘Uncle Evan’, who smiles over her head at Ianto throughout the meal.
As they get ready for bed that night, Lorne is quiet, and Ianto wraps his arms around Lorne’s waist and rests his head on Lorne’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, love?”
Lorne shakes his head, sliding his arms around Ianto’s shoulders. “Nothing. Just a little overwhelmed is all.”
Ianto smiles. “There are an awful lot of them, aren’t there?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah. You’ve got a big family.”
“Gwynn seems to have welcomed you with open arms at least.”
There’s a pause before Lorne responds. “Yeah… yeah, she’s a sweet kid.”
Ianto slips from his arms and pulls back the covers, crawling underneath them. “Come to bed, cariadfab. It’s late, and I’d wager Gwynn will be banging down the door bright and early to open presents with Uncle Evan.”
Lorne stands for a moment, looking at Ianto with a thoughtful expression. When he finally crawls into bed, he curls himself around Ianto and kisses his shoulder. “Guess that means we should be fully clothed when morning rolls around?”
“Well…there is a lock on the door.”
In the morning, Evan is welcomed fully into the family, and though Gwynn pulls him away every five minutes to show him a new book or doll or ornament she’s got, he spends much of the morning as the officially horsey to the younger children and military expert to the older boys, while the older girls giggle every time he smiles at them and point and whisper when he’s not looking.
Ianto can’t help wishing he felt more comfortable with the adults as well, but Evan is enjoying himself, and Ianto will admit to a warmth in his heart as he watches Evan with the children. It’s not something he’d particularly like to dwell on, but something about Evan this morning makes him feel right. He chalks it up to finally knowing his family approves.
They head back to Cardiff late that afternoon, and when they get home, they put away all their gifts and unpack, and then Evan slips his arms around Ianto’s waist, and Ianto leans back into him, and he knows that he’s still with family for Christmas.