"So you understand you need to be on your best behaviour."
"I know how to act at a party, Eric," said Scot, sighing and enduring it as Eric tried to straighten his sweater and succeeded only in getting a static shock. As if making sure it was perfectly straight would make any difference whatsoever when there was a giant reindeer on the front.
"You don't usually go to this kind of party," he said. "This is a party at my work, for grown-ups."
"It's a Christmas party," said Scot. "And I'm very good at social occasions. Sam even helped me shine my shoes."
"You're a shoeshine now?" said Eric, turning his attention to Sam's tie and straightening it, too. Equally unnecessarily.
"I did yours too," said Sam. "You can thank me later."
"Believe me, I'm sure I will be thanking you for many things later," said Eric.
"Let's wait until I've actually done something I should apologise for before assuming that it's a foregone conclusion," said Eric. It was almost certainly a foregone conclusion.
He turned to the hall mirror and straightened his own suit jacket.
"You're ready," said Sam, resting a hand between Eric's shoulder blades. Eric knew he wasn't just talking about the suit; neither of them had to say it out loud. Not after this long together.
"Come on, then, we're going to be late," he said instead, and they grabbed their coats and gloves and hats and were off into the December snowfall.
The thing was, everyone at work knew now. For better or for worse, they were all entirely too clear on Eric's sexual orientation, if not the specifics of his relationship status. There were few who hadn't known already, according to Nula, but it was one thing to know and another to know. And yet another to be faced with it at the annual holiday party.
Greg met them at the door after they'd hung up their coats, smoothed down staticky hair and rubbed sweaty palms against carefully creased pants. "Glad you could make it," he said to Eric, then held out his hand to Sam. "You must be..."
"Sam," he supplied, giving his hand a firm shake. "It's a pleasure to finally come to one of these."
It wasn't a dig, but Eric felt it keenly all the same. "It's a pleasure to have you. And of course, Scot." He held out his hand to Scot, too, who took it with all due solemnity. "Still playing hockey?"
"I think I like figure skating better," he said, "but I'm very good at hockey. Eric says so, and even if he's lying about that, my coach says so too, so maybe I can do it on the side."
"Hockey on the side," said Eric with a sigh. "I guess I can live with that."
Greg laughed, and maybe Eric wasn't quite out of the doghouse yet, after letting his work suffer over his personal dramas, but it was a lot more comfortable than he'd been expecting.
If they entire party wasn't as comfortable, Eric knew that was at least partly on him. It was nice, and there was music and refreshments and a big tree and presents for the kids, but it was hard to relax knowing the kind of statement he was making, showing up with Sam, not to mention Scot, for the first time.
But he tried. They all tried. Scot was pleasant and sociable and Sam worked the room like a pro, and Eric...he tried. He talked to his colleagues and their families and if he steered the conversation more towards them than him, well, that was just habit.
At least he had some allies here. Nula had her own date, but she still made time for Eric. Even if it was to mock him, and occasionally stare him down from the hallway where Eric was about to leave to go fix his hair again in the men's room. Winter was a bitch.
"What?" he said, actually feeling vaguely alarmed at the way she was staring at him, arms crossed over her chest. Smirking. "Do I have some dip on my—" He was already going to the washroom. He could fix that.
Nula just looked up, above his head, and Eric had a very bad feeling about this.
"I should've known not to pass through any doorways."
"Hey, I don't make the rules," she said. "I didn't even hang it there. "
"So we can pretend this never happened, then," said Eric, but Sam's hand was on his back again, right in that spot that was like a magic button, the way it always calmed him down. When Eric turned back toward him, he could see that a lot more people in the room than just Nula had noticed that he and Sam were standing under the mistletoe.
"Well?" said Scot expectantly. Eric was going to shake his head, but Sam's hand on his back stopped him. "It's tradition. I have my camera ready."
"Well, if it's going to be immortalized, we'd better make it good," said Sam.
Eric had spent the evening very politely in proximity to Sam without ever actually doing anything to draw attention to the fact that they were there together. It was enough that he'd brought him, that he'd brought him and Scot, that he had a family at the family party for the first time.
Except that it wasn't. It wasn't enough. It wasn't fair to Sam. It wasn't fair to him. And if anyone at the party had a problem with it, well, they could just suck it up because it was Christmas.
He turned to Sam and placed his hands on either side of his face and kissed him for much longer than the propriety of mistletoe demanded. Though without tongue, because this was a family party, and also he'd been eating the garlic dip.
"You definitely will have nothing to apologise for when we get home," Sam murmured as he moved away again, eyes fluttering back open again. Eric wondered when he'd closed them, and smiled that he had.
"The night is young," said Eric. "I can still do something stupid."
"Even if you do," said Sam. "I'm proud of you."
"Well, don't be," said Eric. "It was a long time coming."
"That's exactly why," said Sam, putting a hand over his mouth so Eric couldn't argue anymore. Scot, from the sound of it, was still taking pictures. No one else seemed to be reacting to them much at all. Except Nula, who'd murmured a quiet and appreciative 'well done' and moved away again.
Which, you know, was exactly as it should be.
"Come try the shortbread cookies," said Scot. "They're to die for. I'm going to have to get the recipe."
"I'll try to find out who brought them," said Eric, sharing a long-suffering look with Sam, and not pulling away when Sam took his hand, lacing their fingers together as Scot led them to the refreshment table.
Eric might not have the most traditional family, but he loved them all the same, and it was time everyone else knew that too.