Author's Note: Dedicated to Roadrunner_Ger, the lovely Andrea. Merry Christmas, and here's to a wonderful new year!
Alice looked in the kitchen and sighed when she found only Ianto in there; he looked up and smiled wryly when he heard her sigh. "I can't find Jack," she told him. "I thought he might be in here with you, but..."
"He's just popped out for a couple of bits," he told her quietly, but she could tell he was hiding something.
Looking back over her shoulder for a moment to make sure that the children were all occupied with her... she stopped that sentence right there and inserted 'Ianto's mum', then slipped into the kitchen and shut the door. "It's not been, I mean... You not telling him I was coming, I mean, are you alright?"
He frowned and nodded but admitted. "I don't understand."
She wrapped her arms around her chest and wandered further into the room to lean on the table. "I mean, not many people would be as... most..."
"I'm not most people, Alice," he pointed out.
"No, I know that," she agreed, chuckling, "God, you must be different to put up with... Dad," she swallowed. "But things are alright with you, the pair of you?"
He laughed suddenly and pushed himself off the counter so that he could turn around and turn his attention to the coffee pot again (he always seemed to be making coffee; apparently even her dad drank coffee these days). "They're fine, but thank you. He's over the moon to have you both here."
"And you?" she pressed.
Ianto gave that sweet little smile he had that she had realised usually meant he was thinking of Jack. "Well, I hadn't realised quite how many cousins I have these days, but it's nice to be able to do something like this with him. He was right, we needed something like this."
"So it was actually his idea?" she asked.
"Well, he said that we should do something outside work this Christmas, I just let my mum organise it," he gave a properly amused smile and checked his watch, then muttered something under his breath.
The doorbell rang and she made her escape, but Mrs Jones caught her out on the corridor and stopped her from going to answer it. "Let the children get it, dear," she told her with a wink. "They can stand on the cold doorstep and see who it is."
Stephen was amongst the Jones youngsters who crowded towards the door, shepherded by the patriarchal figure of Ianto's grandfather. After a brief (traditional) scuffle, the oldest Jones girl unlocked the door and lifted her tiniest cousin up to pull back the bolt, then stepped back to open it. "It's Santa!" she yelled over her shoulder as she flung the door wide for him to enter. Sure enough, the open doorway framed a tall figure in a red velvet suit with fur trimming, with a big white beard and white hair emerging from under a red hat. He had two big sacks of presents, one over his shoulder and one on the floor next to him and he held his free arm out for the girl to snuggle under for a hug.
"Is this the Jones house?" he asked, in an accent that was almost but not entirely unlike Welsh. There was a chorus of 'yes' from the gathered crowd of children – probably a dozen of them in total – and he laughed merrily. "Well then, you had better let me in, because I have something special for you here."
They crowded back into the living room and Alice followed, aware of Ianto coming to lean against the door frame behind her where they could watch the children with Santa without getting in the way. The children all sat on the floor, whilst Santa sat in the big arm chair with his sacks of presents by the side of the chair. He looked up, past Alice, and winked, and she felt Ianto shift next to her. "Story!" the girl yelled now – Mary, that was her name; with so many aunts and uncles and nephews and nieces and cousins, Alice had difficulty in keeping track – she was clearly the leader of the group, old enough to know the truth probably, but mature enough with it to keep up the pretence for the younger ones. They were all calling for a story now, and Santa bent down to pick little Rosie up and settled her on his knee.
"You want a story do you?" they cheered. "Well then, I know a story, but how does it start now..."
"It was a dark and stormy night," Mary prompted.
"That was it!" he beamed at her. "My, you are a good girl, aren't you? Yes, it was. It was a dark and stormy night..."
Alice watched entranced the way Santa was with the kids; they hung on his every word, the older ones filling in when he faltered. Stephen sat in the middle of them, between Ianto's nephew and a cousin of a similar age, and he beamed over at her when he spotted her. She gave him a small wave and folded her arms again, then looked up to meet Santa's eye for a moment. When he reached the end of the story they begged for another, but he told them that he had to go. Finally, he and the older children started pulling presents out of his sacks and stacking them under the tree neatly, ready for Christmas day. "I think I might have something else in here as well," he told them, staring down into his sack. "What's this then?" he dove his hand in and brought back a handful of candy canes and white sugar mice. "You are all going to brush your teeth before bed, aren't you?" they assured him they would and he pulled out another handful, holding his hands out for them to take them.
It wasn't long before the door shut on Santa and the cold, wintry night, and Alice found herself sucking a candy cane contemplatively and watching Ianto moving around the living room. He had put the remaining sweets in the bowl with the sugared almonds, chocolate coated raisins and dolly mixtures in the glass basket on the sideboard, but had rescued a sugared mouse, wiggling it guiltily when he caught her watching him. "For Jack," he told her with a shrug, and she laughed.
"He'll be upset to have missed Santa," she said, smiling across the room to where Stephen was playing on the Wii with Ianto's nephew. "Stephen's enjoyed himself so much, I think I'll have trouble dragging him away from... is it David?" she nodded to herself. "Thank you, Ianto, it's been a lovely Christmas."
"Oh!" he looked up at her suddenly. "You are staying tonight, aren't you?"
"Yes, we are," she reassured him. "I just felt it needed saying. We've had too many Christmases when it's just been us, and I sometimes feel like we're too... cut off."
He understood. "Christmas is a time for reconnecting and for family. You and Stephen are family, Alice, even if Jack and I..." he stopped. "Well, I don't think you'll ever have to address the step-father issue."
She folded one arm across her chest and reached out to touch his arm. "I already have," she told him quietly. "Make him happy, that's all I ask."
He nodded and they both looked up as Jack burst through the front door, shivering and shaking snow out of his hair and off his shoulders, clutching two bottles of wine in one hand. "It's cold out there," he announced to the world in general as Ianto hurried over and took the bottles off him and helped him to take his coat off. "Sorry I was so long, it was absolutely manic in there."
"Christmas Eve, it would be," Ianto pointed out. "You're lucky you got there in time. Fu...dge you're soaking, go up and get a shower quickly, I saved you a sugar mouse."
"A sugar mouse?" Jack asked, half in delight and half in confusion.
"Yep, Santa came," Ianto told him. "Now go and get dry."
Alice looked up the stairs after him, then turned to watch as Ianto straightened Jack's big coat and hung it up and neatened his boots on a piece of newspaper. "Ianto..." she started, then glanced around and lowered her voice. "Jack was Santa, wasn't he?"
The laughter and teasing in Ianto's smile belied his innocent expression. "Don't be silly, Alice," he told her. "Santa was Santa, Jack was just unfortunate enough to miss him."
"That'll be why all the gift tags are in your handwriting then," she guessed.
"Torchwood is getting fluffier?" he hazarded and she laughed and left him to it.
Ianto watched her go and pulled a pair of candy canes out of Jack's coat pocket, then turned and headed up the stairs after Jack, tapping the sweets against his palm in time with the music from downstairs. Either Jack had taken his instruction of 'quick' very much to heart, or he hadn't actually got into the shower yet, so Ianto knocked on the door, feeling slightly foolish about it. "Jack, are you in there?" he asked.
The door opened behind him instead and Jack poked his head out. "In here," he told him. "Thought I'd just get changed into something warmer, rather than get wet again."
"Logics," Ianto chuckled and held up the candy canes. "Look what I found in your pockets, Santa brought you a present."
"You weren't supposed to find those," Jack told him seriously, crossing the small landing to stand in front of Ianto and closing his hand around them. "You can only have one if you've been a good boy."
Ianto smirked and kissed him. "Good enough?"
Giving Ianto's hand a squeeze Jack stepped back and held up one of the candy canes on the handle bit, lightly pushing the tip against his Welshman's lips. Ianto pursed them in a mischievous smirk and snapped at the candy when Jack pushed it forward between his lips. Jack grinned broadly as he made sure that Ianto had it securely and left him standing on the landing laughing.