Mornings began any number of ways in their household, from Isabelle's wails to Rift alerts, from phone calls in the dead of night to Callie and Kyle turning up the volume for their cartoons. Good mornings meant being able to ignore the rustles and bumps from outside the door, and greeting the day properly. The worst mornings tended to be those which were still technically holdovers from last night, or even the night before.
This morning began after a late night chasing a pair of Hoix methheads halfway across Grangetown. Lisa had lost (or won) the toss to stay home while the kids slept, tracking Jack and Ianto's progress on the hunt, rerouting stoplights for the little traffic there was at that time of night, and keeping an eye out on the regular channels in case this was a distraction for something else. They'd all been caught flat-footed last month, with a widespread Weevil release to cover the theft of that scout ship UNIT was supposed to have secured better. Nothing else had come through or attacked last night, and the boys had dragged home at quarter past three, covered in enough grime that they showered before falling into bed. Even Jack wanted sleep.
So it seemed unfair, a little, that just after five, a tiny finger poked him in the arm. "Uncle Jack?"
Jack cracked open one eye, and met two twinkling brown eyes peeping over the side of the bed. "Huh?"
"He came!" Callie's whisper was loud enough to fill the room. Jack dredged through the functional parts of his brain to try and make sense of her words.
He settled for another "Huh?"
"Father Christmas came!" She grabbed his arm. "Come on!" Jack let out a groan.
From the other side of the bed, Lisa said, "Go back to bed, Callie. Your presents will still be there in a few hours."
"He left footprints, Mama! All over Papa's nice rug!"
There was a completely unintelligible noise from Ianto. Possibly it was meant to be a protest, but since he'd been the one last night to insist on the sooty footprints, it wasn't much of one.
"Bed," Jack said. "Presents later."
Callie scowled, looking just like her father when she did, and Jack leaned over to kiss her on the head. She pulled the door behind her as she went back to her own bedroom. Jack was asleep again before he heard her door close.
Morning came again a few hours later, when Callie had drawn Kyle to her cause. Two sets of eyes this time peeked over the edge of the bed, and Jack knew he wasn't getting away with more sleep this time. He shooed them out, pulled on denims and a white t-shirt, and shut the door gently behind him. Isabelle would wake up any time now, and she would be enough of an alarm to wake Lisa and Ianto. In the meantime, they could sleep a little longer.
He put a DVD into the player for the kids and fetched them bowls of dry cereal to eat in front of the telly. Callie waited impatiently to delve into her stocking. Kyle, not quite two yet, was more interested in his Cheerios and the adventures of the Teletubbies.
"Be good," he told them both, and headed to work. Someone needed to feed and water the residents, and anyway he'd hidden Ianto and Lisa's present in the bottom drawer of his desk.
When he returned forty-five minutes later - Weevils fed, Frycheul the dinosaur given a new teddy bear to savage, and gift obtained - Lisa was awake and nursing Isabelle while Ianto got the coffee and grownup breakfast ready. Callie had changed the DVD to Sesame Street and was singing along with Elmo while Kyle watched, Cheerios all around him on the floor. Jack rarely took photographs anymore, but this was a picture he wanted to remember. Before he could locate the camera setting on his phone, though, Callie had seen him and ploughed into his knees.
"He's home! Can we open presents now?"
"Soon," Ianto said. "The rest of us need to finish breakfast first." On cue, Isabelle pulled off and let out a wet burble. Jack grabbed her and swung her to his shoulder for a quick burp while Lisa buttoned her dressing gown. Seeing the disappointed stares from both men, she unbuttoned the top two buttons again, giving everyone a nice ogle.
Jack settled Isabelle into her highchair for the rest of her breakfast, some warmed rice cereal fed to her by her daddy, who'd already gulped down his own eggs and toast. Jack wanted the camera again, but ate his food instead.
"Nothing new overnight," Jack said. "I left messages with everyone to check in today."
"You didn't call them!" said Lisa. "It's Christmas."
"Texts. Anyway, Gwen's already checked in. Edward was awake early this morning."
Ianto said, "That reminds me. Rhiannon mentioned dropping by after dinner for a few minutes. We should silence the alarm now or we're going to forget again." Rhiannon had only been present once for a Rift alert. Convincing her it was a malfunctioning smoke detector meant a lot of flirting on Jack's part, and a lot of eye-rolling from Ianto while he did it.
All the alerts in the Hub were wired to go off at their house and at Gwen's, with Jack's wrist strap as a backup. A secondary signal would go to everyone's mobiles, but that didn't do them much good when a third of the team was in London to be with family. Here in Cardiff, Gwen and Rhys' families were coming in to celebrate Edward's first Christmas. Andy was spending the day with his mum. While Johnson was still around, she'd already informed him Joe had custody of Steven until New Year's and Jack was not going to bother her if he could help it; no use alienating Alice further. That left the three of them watching things, and since Christmas over the past several years had brought aliens, monsters and worse, Jack was ready for almost anything.
"Now?" asked Callie, as Jack took the last bite of his toast.
"Now," Lisa said, and Callie let out a yell of delight.
Ianto found the camera and snapped pictures of Callie and Kyle going through their stockings like dervishes. The two of them "helped" Isabelle with hers, though they were disappointed to find no toys in it, merely a new soother and some bibs. Callie squealed through opening her new dolls, squealed more when she opened a new paint set, and went in paroxysms of glee when she found the wooden sword Father Christmas had left behind the tree with her name etched on the side.
Lisa offered Jack a raised eyebrow at that one, but she'd been the one to say he couldn't buy them toy guns yet.
Kyle played with his new cars while clutching Isabelle's new ragdoll in one arm. The baby herself was satisfied with sticking the boxes the cars came in into her mouth. The floor was a mess with wrapping paper and torn cardboard, not to mention the sooty footprints around the fireplace. Jack set a private timer in his head for how long it would take Ianto to break down and get out the Hoover, and then chuckled as Ianto did just that.
While they cleared away the paper, Jack glanced at the handful of presents still under the tree, a few each for David and Mica and their parents, and the gifts the three of them would exchange in a few minutes. A new jumper or two, socks, some books each of them had wanted, and of course the present he'd brought from work, smuggled into the house in the pocket of his greatcoat.
Jack carried another armful of cardboard to the recycling pile and then flung himself onto the sofa, lifting his feet just as Ianto hovered the rug in front of him. "You should stop for now," Jack said, reaching out for a friendly grope as Ianto bent to get under the coffee table. "We're just going to open more stuff."
"We don't rip things to shreds," Ianto said. "I just want to get the little bits up."
Lisa said, "Let him." She went into the kitchen to wipe up the breakfast dishes so Jack would have room to navigate when he started the goose and stuffing in a little while. He kept an eye on the kids as Ianto emptied the canister and put the vacuum away, fortunately so as a wheel popped off one of Kyle's cars and made its way into Isabelle's hand. Jack picked up the cars and carried them upstairs to Kyle's room, checking the others as he went.
The doorbell rang.
"Got it," Ianto said, worry and confusion in his voice. Jack hurried back downstairs as the door opened. His first thought was that Rhiannon and Jonny were early. His second was that their family must have grown overnight.
"Surprise!" Rhiannon grinned widely as Ianto stood at the doorway. Lisa's brother, his wife and their kids stood outside with the Davies family, all looking inordinately pleased with themselves. "Happy Christmas!"
"Happy Christmas," Ianto said, and on what was clearly autopilot he add, "Come in." Something in his face broke. "It's freezing out, come inside."
The parents and kids piled into the hallway, shedding coats and boots. Lisa had pulled her dressing gown tightly around her and helped stash the outer wear in the hall closet. Jack ran back upstairs to get an old towel for the boots to dry on. As he came back down, Lisa's sister-in-law said, "Oh. And this must be Jack."
He offered her a perfect smile. "That's me. Angela, isn't it?" He smoothed out the towel and went to take her hand but she'd already turned to help her daughters get their boots off.
"Angie," she said.
"Good to finally meet you," said Lisa's brother, taking Jack's hand instead. "Douglas Hallett."
Jack aimed his smile at Douglas. "Lisa talks about you all the time." Jack had seen the man before at Lisa and Ianto's wedding, but explaining that would be difficult, and anyway, Douglas hadn't been the one Jack had gone there to see.
"Likewise. I have to say I'm surprised to see you here. We thought you'd be with your own family for the holidays."
"Well. You know." The official story was that he'd moved in with Ianto and Lisa after his wife had kicked him out and he'd had nowhere else to go. They'd bought the house together back in September, all three names on the deed. Two of the children had no memories of a life before Jack, and the third had been coached for her own sake to say "Uncle" instead of "Dad." Aside from the tentative steps he'd been taking to regain Alice's trust, this was his family now. Yet as far as their siblings knew, Jack was merely Ianto and Lisa's housemate.
"Speaking of surprises," Ianto said, sliding carefully between them and shaking Douglas's hand, "why are you here?"
"It's Christmas!" Jonny said from behind him, slapping his back with a meaty hand. Jack caught the look of glazed horror that filled and then carefully smoothed out of Ianto's face.
Rhiannon took Ianto's arm and swung him around for a hug now that her coat was off. "It's your first Christmas back home, you dumbo. You two, off in London, off in Paris, and we haven't had a proper Christmas with the kids yet."
Douglas said, "We wanted to get out of the city. Christmastime in London is getting infamous."
"And it's Izzy's first Christmas," said Angie. "And we've only met her the once." She shooed the girls off to play. Mica had already gone to see Callie's new toys, and David had followed with a distinctly bored expression.
"Isabelle," Lisa corrected her absently. "You should have called." She added, "So we could clean."
"I did," said Douglas. "You said you didn't have any plans and were staying home. That's when we decided to bring the family to you." He looked at Jack. "We've booked rooms for the night at a hotel. We won't be putting you out."
"It's no problem," said Jack.
Ianto said, "It's just a surprise."
Lisa said, "Let's not just stand in the hallway. Come on."
She coaxed everyone into the living room with the kids. Ashley or maybe Hailey - they were fraternal twins but Jack didn't know the difference and hadn't been introduced as to who was wearing pink today and who purple - was picking up Isabelle under the arms. Ianto plucked her away before either child got hurt. "Thanks, I'll get her."
Ianto lifted Isabelle and made a face. "Ugh. Lisa, come lend me a hand?"
"I'll help straighten up upstairs," Jack said. "My room's a mess."
He followed Ianto and Lisa up, while Ianto called down: "Rhi, you've been here before. Can you put on the tea?"
Ianto took Isabelle into the room they pretended was Jack's and laid her on the bed. Jack shut the door behind Lisa.
"Shit," Ianto said, rubbing his hair.
Jack asked Lisa, "What did you say to him?"
"I told him we were staying home. I said it was too hard to travel with the kids this small." She sat down on the bed beside Isabelle. "She's not dirty."
Ianto said, "If that's the biggest lie I have to tell today, we're going to be doing very well."
"Callie knows what to say," Jack said. "We practised." He started rearranging the room in places, making it look lived-in. He'd have to get his shampoo and so on from their en suite and put them in the main bath. At least his clothes were already here; Lisa's clothes filled the wardrobe in the master bedroom, leaving this one for Ianto and Jack to share.
Lisa said, "We could tell them Isabelle's been feeling ill, encourage them not to stay."
"They'll be here overnight at least," Ianto said. "They're not driving back to London tonight." He sat down on the bed on the other side of his daughter. "Shit."
"It'll be fine," Jack said, and rubbed Ianto's shoulders.
"No, it won't," Ianto said, sounding petulant. "This was supposed to be perfect." He looked at Lisa. "This was going to be our first real Christmas."
"We've had Christmas before, dear."
"Not like this year. Last year, you were pregnant with Isabelle. Year before that with Kyle. This is the first Christmas where our family is complete." He glanced at Jack. "All of us." He stroked Isabelle's hair, and Jack thought back to the past several weeks, how Ianto had been insisting on just the right tree, the perfect presents for the children, planning every detail.
"So we postpone things," Lisa said. "They'll go home tomorrow, we'll pretend Boxing Day is our Christmas. Happens all the time."
"Yeah," said Jack. "Used to do that when Alice was little." He'd done that when his other children had been small, as well. He tried not to think about how this was the first Christmas where he intentionally wasn't sending Frank a card, instead of just forgetting like he often had. Suddenly it was hard to breathe, and he stared at Isabelle and reminded himself that the world was different now.
Lisa looked from one to the other of them. "You're both a million miles away right now, you know that?"
"Sorry," Jack said, and Ianto shrugged. Jack went to the closet and pulled out a shirt, royal blue for preference. He slipped it over his t-shirt, felt the cloth slide into place like armour. "Look, I'm going to go back into work. It'll make things easier."
"You can't go," Lisa said, as Ianto said, "You're leaving?"
"Fewer landmines to tread on while I'm not around. I'll stay there tonight, watch over things, be back in the morning as soon as they're gone." He kissed Lisa quickly, rubbing his thumb at her frown.
Ianto stood, but refused to kiss him. "This is your home. This is our home," he gestured, including them all. "We're not letting them chase you out." He wrapped his hands in Jack's shirt. "Stay."
"You know this is a better plan," Jack said, and he pressed his lips against Ianto's anyway although Ianto refused to respond. "I'll call tonight."
Lisa said, "Call before bedtime. Callie gets upset when you work late."
"Shit," Ianto said again.
Isabelle made a noise that sounded like "Tit!"
Lisa's eyes went wide and then she covered her mouth to giggle. Jack shook his finger at Ianto, smirking. "And stop swearing in front of the children."
Jack went to get his personal hygiene supplies and hide them in the wrong bath, and as an afterthought, went through their bedroom to seek out any obvious signs he shared it. Fortunately, life with a curious three-and-a-half year old meant they always put the more interesting things away in the nightstand.
Ianto and Lisa were back downstairs when he went down. Lisa was having a polite, if strained, conversation with Angie about dinner. Damn. Jack had been planning to cook the goose. Ianto was already in the kitchen working on the tea and coffee, and wouldn't meet Jack's eyes. Jack turned on the oven and pulled the goose out of the refrigerator. There were more containers inside the fridge than he remembered.
"They brought food," said Ianto. "Turkey, potatoes, I think Angie mentioned sweet potatoes. Rhiannon brought something veg and a pie. Two pies. Didn't want to eat us out of house and home, she said."
"Very kind." Jack had intended to make a good old-fashioned stuffing. He'd also intended to make a good old-fashioned pudding if he could scrape his memory for the recipe. Instead, he ripped some bread into chunks, mixed in a cracked egg, salt, pepper and some rosemary, and called it done.
"I hate this," Ianto said in a low voice, carefully drowned out by the sounds of seven children and five adults in the other room.
"Me too." The oven clicked to temperature and Jack shoved the goose in, setting a timer for the others. He didn't dare try for another kiss, not now, and settled for watching Ianto finish the motions of tea and coffee. Ianto put a healthy dollop of brandy into his own mug. "See you tomorrow," Jack said.
Jack grabbed his greatcoat on the way out. Jonny shouted from the living room, "Where you goin'? Everything's closed today."
"Something I forgot to do at work. Try to have fun without me."
The joke fell hard, especially when Callie stopped playing with her toys. "You're leavin'?"
"I'll be back," he said.
"Soon." It wasn't a lie. On Jack's personal timescale, returning during Callie's lifespan counted as "soon." Callie knew just enough to understand, and her face drew into a pout. He couldn't stand the sight, not right now, not stuck in the memories of too many holidays of all stripes spent alone (or with someone whose sole purpose to Jack was to keep him from being alone) and too many people he'd disappointed.
He reached the door and took a breath, then opened it.
Johnson's finger was halfway to the doorbell.
"Ah, running out on Christmas," said Alice. "Never seen that trick before."
Ianto froze halfway between the kitchen and the living room, the mugs on a tray and completely forgotten. He'd only met Alice once, but Johnson was there with her, looking uncomfortable, and Jack was staring at them.
Then Steven chirped up, "Hi, Uncle Jack!" Jack broke his stare for a wide grin and bent down for a big hug. Heads poked out from the living room, and Ianto hurried in to distract them with hot drinks, listening in with half an ear.
"You're busy," said Alice. "We should go."
"No!" Jack said quickly. "I was just about to step out. Maybe we could go somewhere together."
Alice said, "That's not necessary. Kate wanted to drop by for a few minutes. We can come visit another time."
Lisa mouthed, "Kate?" Ianto tilted his head at Johnson. It was on her employee records though he'd have sworn she'd kill him if he ever called her by that name.
"Who's this, then?" Rhiannon asked in a friendly tone.
Lisa said, "Jack's sister." That was the cover the two of them had chosen for the sake of Alice's ex, and had kept up for Steven's benefit. Alice's mum had been in on the story as well, hadn't she, so that made three.
"Ah, perfect!" said Jonny. "Told ya, Christmas is for bein' with your family."
Ianto could just see Jack's face half-lit in the light from outside, and then Jack grinned in that way he had, the one that melted the snows and lit the world. "You're right. Come on in, everyone," he said, and tossed his greatcoat back in the closet.
Johnson hung back at the doorway, and Ianto noticed something in her hands. She looked at Jack. "I made a cake."
Lisa and Ianto exchanged glances, and Lisa hurried to the hallway. "That's lovely, thank you." She took the covered plate from Johnson's arms so she could take off her coat. She was wearing a jumper and denims instead of black leather, thank God.
"You cook?" Jack asked.
"Don't let it get around," said Johnson, and underlying the joke was a threat. Ah. They were all on a much better footing here, then.
"I'll check on dinner," Ianto said, meeting Lisa in the kitchen. Johnson came in with her while Alice and Jack talked in a low voice in the hallway.
As soon as they were in the kitchen, Lisa said to Johnson, "You know you're both welcome here." She made room in the icebox for the cake.
Ianto said, "At any time. But why didn't you call first?"
"I was going to, but every time I reached for my mobile, she started talking about going home instead." Without an invitation, Johnson got herself some coffee. Shyness wasn't high on her list of personal foibles. "Any minute, I expect she'll come up with a reason to go."
"Why did you come?" Lisa asked, and Ianto blessed her in his heart because she could make it sound polite instead of the tense scream he was verging on. He took a sip from his laced coffee as Lisa said, "I thought Steven was with his father today."
Johnson had a drink from her own mug before answering. "He was supposed to be. Joe called yesterday right before he was supposed to pick Steven up to say he'd gotten a deal on a last minute cruise, just him and the new wife. They flew out last night." She had more coffee. "Steven didn't take it well. He doesn't get much time with his dad. He's getting old enough to want a male role model, but the one he's supposed to have is barely around. Joe's father died a while ago, neither of us has a brother, so that leaves … "
"Who isn't the best role model for anyone, and you should know I think you're crazy for having him under the same roof as your children." She took another drink. "But given a choice between him and nothing, even Alice agrees it could be worse. Anyway, he's calmed down lately. Jack, I mean. You've been good for him." Johnson looked at Ianto, then at Lisa. It was the longest conversation she'd ever had with either of them that didn't directly involve work. "God, I hate this holiday. Bad food, worse music, everyone pretending to enjoy being around people they can't stand the rest of the year, and no convenient alien or foreign threats to hunt down."
Lisa laughed. "Jack said the same thing two days ago."
Ianto said, "He did?" That hurt more than he was expecting.
"Don't tell Alice," said Johnson, pouring herself more coffee and frowning. "She'll get upset again."
"We should go be social," Lisa said, dread on her face. Ianto wrapped his hand in hers and walked back to the living room.
Steven and David were squirreled up in a corner of the sitting room, poring over the tiny screen of David's Nintendo. Callie, Mica and the twins had gathered all the dollies and the sword into their arms and were trudging up to Callie's bedroom to play, dragging Kyle with them in their wake. That left the adults and Isabelle. Lisa snatched up her daughter from the floor and cuddled her as a shield against the rest of the room. Jack made a space for the two of them on the settee beside him and she gratefully sat down. Ianto crouched on the floor at her side, and she saw the look on Johnson's face, on Alice's, that they'd positioned themselves as three against the world. Again.
"Well, isn't this nice?" said Rhiannon contrary to all evidence. "It's a gorgeous tree."
Angie said, "I love what you've done with the house. It's eclectic."
Ianto said, "Our theme was 'childproofing.'"
Lisa laughed. "You should have seen us the first couple of weeks, all crawling around looking for hazards."
"Hands and knees everywhere," Jack said, and it sounded dirty because it was Jack (and because, well, of course they'd enjoyed themselves while they'd been down there on the floor). She didn't miss Doug's expression and she pressed her lips to Isabelle's hair so she could look away easily, but that only led her to looking at Jack, and noticing that Steven had most of his attention just now.
"Alice," Doug said, "you said Jack's your brother?" Alice nodded. "So are you American as well?"
"Oh no," said Alice, catching Jack's eye again. "I was born in Cardiff and raised in London." She took a drink of her coffee. "Dad got around."
Johnson sputtered into her own coffee with a laugh.
"Yes, he did," said Jack, with a smile in his voice. "Someday I'll have to introduce you to the family up in Aberdeen." His mobile rang, and he pulled it out, checking the name and putting it back. He looked at Ianto when he mouthed: "Andy."
"We have family in Aberdeen?" Alice looked dumbfounded. Lisa wanted to ask the same thing, but there was never a good time. Jack had told them about his past, but in drips and drabs, and mostly about the parts which featured them. The other them. The ones who'd died. Ianto was obsessing about this being their first real Christmas together, and while Lisa could remember all the ones that had preceded it, she also couldn't say for certain that he was wrong.
Sometimes Jack watched her and she knew he saw her body encased in metal, knew that sometimes he drew her mouth to his to remind himself she was real and alive, knew that each time he stroked his thumb down Ianto's cheek that he was wiping away a bad memory. How could she possibly ask what else he saw that he hadn't been able to change?
She resisted the urge to lay her head against him as he said, "I'll tell you later."
Angie said, "Douglas and Lisa are from near Aberdeen. Maybe they know your family!"
"I doubt it," said Lisa. "We moved to London when I was a baby."
Doug said, "And we didn't go back to visit much after."
"Still," Rhiannon said, "funny coincidence. Is their surname Harkness?"
Jack said, "There are a few names. Marriages, lack of marriages. You know how it goes." His mobile chirped that he had a text. He glanced at it. "Ah."
"Anything important?" Johnson asked, as if eager to be done with family and back to business.
"My friend Andy was calling to say have a good Christmas. Nice guy, bit strange." Jack put away his mobile and went back to watching Steven play with David. It wasn't like Jack to dismiss any of the team that way, and Lisa suspected it had been for the benefit of their audience. Andy was just checking in per Jack's request.
God, this was miserable. She'd grown so used to being unguarded here, to being safe. Their job meant holding so much back during the day, keeping so many secrets. Home was supposed to be where they could relax within one another and not have to worry about more than swearing or shagging in front of the kids. Lisa always felt her breath relax as soon as she stepped through the door. Sanctuary. Peace.
For the first time in five years, she wanted a cigarette.
They were saved by a stampede of little girls bounding down the stairs. "Can we open presents now?"
Lisa counted noses. "Callie, where's your brother?"
"I'll get him," Ianto said, and she could read the gratitude on his face for having an excuse to get out of there.
Lisa asked Doug, "Did you get the gifts we sent?"
He smiled. "Yesterday. We brought them with us. Thought it'd be nice to open the girls' gifts with everyone." That was a good plan. The twins wouldn't feel excluded. Doug was good about that sort of thing, which made it even more annoying that he kept shooting glances at Jack as if mentally kicking him to the kerb.
"Where's my good boy?" Ianto said, opening Callie's door. Kyle sat on the floor surrounded by toys. At least his sister and her cousins hadn't dressed him up again. Every time Mica played with Callie, it seemed Kyle was turned into a spare babydoll, and it would only get worse when they were allowed to play with Isabelle.
Ianto scooped his son into his arms and touched Kyle's head with his nose. Kyle laughed.
"He's such a cutie," said Rhiannon.
Ianto turned, saw his own sister standing in the doorway. He hadn't realised she'd followed him, and the little bit of tension he'd managed to let go came roaring back.
"We like him," Ianto said, bouncing Kyle in his arms. He pursed his lips. "This was your idea, wasn't it? Everyone showing up?"
"You don't have to make it sound like that. Christmas is about family. Douglas and Angie and me were talking on the phone about how we hardly ever see you even though you're home now."
"You watch the kids every day," said Ianto.
"And I love it, but I like to see you for more than five minutes at a time! You're always rushing off."
"It's the job. We're always on the go."
"You're job's not that important, Ianto. You're a librarian."
His jaw set. "That's … part of my job. I have a lot of responsibilities." Which changed daily, depending on the need and Jack's whim. One minute he was buried in cataloguing alien tech that Tosh and Lisa hadn't figured out yet, cross-referencing species and timelines in order to identify, classify and perhaps even eventually use items that could be WMDs or random detritus from the Rift. The next minute, he was expected to dispose of dead Weevils who'd come up from the sewers with a taste for human and been stopped by Johnson, Mickey and Andy, coordinate with Lois about the latest honcho from UNIT who wanted to inspect their setup, remind Jack that calling said honcho a toadying arsewipe would only cause problems down the line, keep the staff caffeinated, go over reports with Gwen while Lois was occupied smoothing over the UNIT honcho's ruffled feathers, and in his downtime, search over profiles of potential doctors for the team because it was frankly ridiculous by this point that they hadn't hired someone. Or, as he called it otherwise, last Wednesday.
He loved his job, but things had been so much simpler when it had just been him and Lisa and Mme. Defarge.
"Of course you do," said Rhiannon soothingly. "I'm just saying you might not have to let it stress you out so much. I mean, it's not like the world's going to end if you misfile the encyclopaedias, yeah?"
He let out a short laugh, because really, there was no answer to that. "I wouldn't want to disappoint my boss," he said, because it was true.
"It's good to know your family ranks after your boss."
And then there really was no answer to that, not without telling everything. How could he possibly explain about Mum, who'd seen the stars and given them up for Dad? How could he explain timelines and course corrections, and how he utterly believed Jack and his mad story about changing the world, about how his perfect little family would not exist now without that change? And how could he explain without sounding like he was simply paying Jack back for the gift, rather than falling headfirst into something he'd never known that he'd always wanted and now would do anything to keep?
It was completely insane, the way Jack had crashed into their lives like a wave, and all for the love of someone Ianto had never been.
In the middle of the night when Jack whispered the strangest stories, Ianto closed his eyes and could almost see the things Jack said he'd done, could almost remember himself. It was like having a twin brother he'd never known, who'd taken on pain and death to spare him. The glory was having this life and knowing he had it, and the horror was watching Jack's eyes and knowing Jack was seeing that doppelganger instead of him, was kissing that twin, was in love with that ghost. Ianto could accept the price of this existence, but he couldn't make Rhiannon begin to understand.
"Rhi … "
"Don't. If you don't want to spend time with me, with us, you could just say. You don't have to hide behind your job."
"You are. You're embarrassed by us."
"That's not true," he said, even though it was, a little, and he hated himself for it.
"It is. You never liked Jonny. We're not posh enough for you, not like Lisa's family."
"We don't see them, either."
"That's because Douglas thinks she married down." True, but he hadn't known until just now that Rhiannon knew that.
"It's because Douglas treats her like a child. And you were the one who invited him here."
"We were trying to surprise you."
"It's your first Christmas back home since Dad died, Ianto."
"I know!" He didn't mean to shout, and he cuddled Kyle a bit to calm him. Dad's last Christmas had been in hospital. Ianto had dropped out of uni to take care of him when he'd taken ill, then had spent what turned into a year of waiting for him to die. Their father was every lost dream either of them had ever had. Invoking his name only made Ianto even more frightened for what he could lose now.
"Do you want me to go?" It wasn't sharp, not like he'd expected. Just sad, resigned, and that was completely earned.
"No. I'm glad you're here." He saw the disbelief all over her face, and came over carefully, not wanting to spook her. "I love you. I love the kids. I'll deal with Jonny," he added, and she bit her lips to stop the laugh. "I'm just really bad at handling surprises." He was sulking like a child, and it was time to drop it, past time. Lisa and Jack were having trouble with their own families and he didn't have to pile his own petulance on top of their problems.
Now if only it were that easy to do.
"Tell you what," he said, "let's make a plan next time. We go to the cinema. Just you and me."
She watched him suspiciously. "When? And how long 'till you call me up and cancel?"
"Next week. And I won't."
"Your job will get in the way again. You'll have to impress your boss with some of your amazing filing skills, I'm sure."
Ianto jostled Kyle into one arm and placed his other hand on her shoulder. "I'll make it up to him somehow."
Jack tore his gaze from Steven as Ianto came back down the stairs with Kyle and Rhiannon. Alice had cooled, barely, since her righteous anger with him over the incident with the 456, and he didn't dare ever tell her that not only could it have been worse, it had in fact been much worse. She didn't let Jack spend time unsupervised with her son, almost never spent time with Jack at all, except for that ill-fated dinner from a few months ago, and now today.
"Presents!" Callie squealed, as Ianto set Kyle on the floor, and Kyle mimicked her: "Pwesents!"
In a revisit of the morning, the room was filled with the sounds of delighted cries as all the kids opened gifts from their cousins. Only Steven had nothing to open, but David let him play with his video game while the others unpacked their loot. Callie opened more dolls and a pair of pretty dresses. Kyle opened a lorry (Jack would paint "Harwood's" on the side tomorrow) and a few cute little outfits. Jack was normally the most social of the three of them, had to swallow his own impulse to offer thanks for the gifts on the children's behalf. Instead, he slid to the floor beside Isabelle and wrapped his large hands around her small ones as she opened a new pink, lavender and blue blanket Rhi had knitted.
By silent agreement, their own gifts were pushed to the back of the tree, would be opened later.
All was well and all was well, and then David grabbed another package from under the tree. "This one doesn't have a name."
Jack petted Isabelle's hair and casually glanced over at what he'd found. His heart stopped, and he grabbed the oblong package out of David's hands. "Sorry. My fault. Didn't label that one."
"Who's it for?" asked Ashley or maybe Hailey, echoing the yuletide greed all the children were now watching him with as Jack instinctively pulled the package against himself. Even Steven was looking on with interest, although he'd opened his gifts from Jack at home.
"Your aunt and uncle. Don't worry about it." He started to put it back under the tree.
Angie said, "They're right here. Why don't you open it?" she said to Lisa.
"We're opening our gifts later," Lisa told her, and Jack blessed her silently.
"Anyway it's from Jack," said Alice. "You apparently haven't met his sense of humour yet."
Jack barked a laugh and said, "Yeah. Can't open everything in front of the kids." Ianto shot him a hard look, to which Jack responded with an innocent expression of his own, which only led to Ianto's frown growing as a distinct blush framed his face. Great. Now everyone would be certain he'd bought the two of them a sex toy for Christmas.
The timer sounded in the kitchen and Jack excused himself to check on dinner, making sure before he went that the gift was shoved as far back as possible. In the oven, the goose was cooking nicely. He basted it with some pan drippings and squirted more drippings onto the stuffing. Only the sound of feet coming into the kitchen warned him before his bottom was squeezed pleasantly.
"I better know who that is, or this is about to be very awkward," Jack said, before standing up.
"Sorry," Lisa said softly. "You were bent over."
"I'll remember that my irresistibility goes up when I'm bent over."
Jack reset the timer as Lisa asked, "What was that about?"
"Well, I was bent over, and you …"
"What'd you get us?"
"Weren't you the one scolding Callie earlier for trying to peek at her presents?"
"I wasn't worried about Callie opening a vibrator."
"So we're saving that for when she turns sixteen?"
Lisa rubbed her head, just in time for Ianto to come into the kitchen with them. He took one look at the two of them, and immediately added more brandy to his coffee. Jack thought about calling him on it; Ianto was a lightweight. But what the hell. This was misery enough for all of them.
"Sorry," Ianto said unexpectedly.
"Being an arse. I'm not ten years old, and I'll live if Christmas isn't perfect."
"Well," said Jack, clapping his hands together, "I think we've made excellent progress today. Lisa's overcome her fear of groping, and Ianto has resolved his Christmas-related childhood trauma."
"Shut up, Peter," said Lisa, and kissed Ianto on the cheek. "We'll have a good day tomorrow."
Jack let himself think about Peter for a moment. He'd finally told their sort-of staff psychiatrist about the altered timeline, because it messed with Jack's head from time to time and it was Peter Sheffield's job to be the person they told that kind of thing to. Peter had annoyingly pointed things to say about changing history and then shacking up with the people Jack had changed history for, and Jack couldn't even say Peter was just jealous since he'd Retconned the man's one memory of sleeping with him (at Peter's insistence).
Jack was willing to admit the possibility there was nothing about his life that wasn't just a little fucked up.