Here we go, the concluding chapter. My sincere thanks to everyone who has supported this story along the way, it means a great deal and really makes a huge difference. And thanks again to Prothrombintime for feedback and encouragement.
Ianto stood at the kitchen doorway, watching the scene before him with amusement and more than a small amount of horror. Numerous boxes, bags, and assorted packaging littered the floor and sofa, torn open and tossed aside with Jack's trademark haphazard style. The man in question was at his exuberant best, moving excitedly back and forth as he piled decorations onto their newly acquired Christmas tree. A Santa Claus hat sat at a jaunty angle on Jack's head and long lengths of shimmering multi-coloured tinsel were draped around his neck.
Not content with the gaudy red and white hat, Jack was also wearing a red t-shirt with cartoon reindeer on the front and back. More surprising was that Ianto himself was similarly attired, except his t-shirt was dark green and featured dancing sheep dressed in Santa suits. Jack had seemed to think it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. It most definitely wasn't what Ianto had in mind when Jack had dragged him into their bedroom after dinner and began eagerly unbuttoning his shirt. He supposed he should just be grateful that Jack hadn't carried out his threat of buying them matching pairs of Christmas Elf slippers along with reindeer antlers for Moses.
Meanwhile, their four-legged friend was circling the tree with obvious suspicion, clearly still puzzled by the invasion of the equivalent of a small forest into his domain. Eyes wide, he sniffed cautiously at the lower branches and pawed at the tangle of wires trailing from the multiple sets of tree lights.
The tree was enormous, far too big even for the spacious living room, and in less than twenty-four hours it had managed to litter the floor with what seemed like at least half its weight in pine needles. In retrospect, Ianto had no idea how they'd managed to lug the massive thing from the roof of Jack's SUV, up the stairs, and into the flat. He did know that he'd been ready to murder Jack by the time they'd finally unwrapped and wrestled the monstrosity into position next to the sofa. The tree itself was beautiful, but Ianto didn't see the point when he already had a perfectly serviceable artificial one which had the added benefit of not leaving a blanket of pine needles in its wake. But Jack had been relentless and uncompromising in his desire for a proper tree, and Ianto had eventually conceded defeat.
Of course, it hadn't stopped with the tree. Jack had perused Ianto's collection of tasteful silver and gold tree decorations with dissatisfaction, declaring that he was going to pick up a few new ones the following day. Ianto should have realised that Jack's idea of a few translated to a small mountain of decorations in every conceivable size, shape, and colour, with no apparent theme or common design. He was convinced that Jack must have cleaned out half the shops in Cardiff in his quest.
Jack stopped decorating and began teasing Moses with a length of tinsel, causing the feline to abandon his scrutiny of the tree and chase after the sparkling distraction with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Mo had been enamoured with Jack from the moment they'd met, Jack had been similarly besotted, and their adoration of each other hadn't diminished in the slightest since. Ianto smiled at their antics and continued to watch for a few more moments, then retreated back into the kitchen to finish preparing their coffees.
It was Friday night and he'd survived his second book signing session that afternoon. As Jack had predicted, it had been a little easier the second time around. He'd missed Jack's presence though. Jack could charm and engage almost anyone with what seemed like effortless skill, and he'd been grateful to have at least some of the attention diverted away from himself. He'd never been good at making small talk with strangers, feeling tongue-tied and awkward. The fact that complete strangers were queuing up to meet him made it all the more uncomfortable. But the unanticipated signing tour was good for both the book and his writing career so he'd reluctantly accepted it as a necessary evil. Even so, he wasn't looking forward to the upcoming week which required him to travel around the country, beginning with London before going further afield. It would be a bit of an adventure, he supposed, but he'd much rather stay at home, spend time with Jack, and continue working on his next book.
A month had passed since he and Jack had reconciled and rekindled their relationship. It hadn't been the smoothest of beginnings, but they'd been on several dates and things seemed to be going well. Their relationship might not be the most conventional in the world, but he wasn't sure that really mattered anymore. He loved Jack, and being with Jack made him happy – happier than he'd ever been, if he was honest with himself. While he didn't know what the future held for them, he'd learnt a lot from being with Jack, and one of those lessons was to live in the present and not take the here and now for granted. He'd made that mistake with Lisa, but he wasn't going to repeat it with Jack. He wanted a future with Jack, quite possibly a lifetime, but he was determined not to be fixated on distant, lofty dreams or crippled by doubts and uncertainties.
He knew there were times when Jack struggled with his fears about being in a relationship. When that happened, Jack would almost cling to him, stricken with panic, and the only thing he could do was offer silent comfort, knowing there were no words that would alleviate the other man's fears. As much as he hated to see Jack feeling scared and vulnerable, he was grateful that Jack turned to him rather than away from him. He was glad that Jack didn't try to hide what he was feeling.
He hoped that Jack's doubts weren't about him. He hoped that Jack didn't doubt his commitment or the depth of his feelings. He'd never been good at expressing his feelings, it just wasn't in his nature, although there was no denying that Jack had an uncanny knack for breaking through his defences and bringing his emotions to the surface. He was also more tactile with Jack than he'd ever been with anyone else, which seemed fortunate given how tactile Jack was himself. Jack expressed himself best through physical connection, and in their time together Ianto had grown increasingly more comfortable with doing the same. So while neither of them were the most effusive of men, he hoped that they managed to communicate adequately in other ways what they found difficult to express with words.
As he operated the coffee machine with practised ease, he thought back over the various events and pivotal moments that had brought them to this point. It was something that he found himself doing quite often. Some of those moments made him want to laugh out loud, others made him want to cry, and some caused him to cringe with embarrassment or shame. There had even been occasions where he was amazed by his brazenness and confidence. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the strange turn his life had taken, and if someone had told him seven months ago that he'd end up in a romantic relationship with his ostentatious male flatmate, he would have thought they were stark, raving mad. Sometimes he still couldn't believe how much his world had changed since Lisa had walked out on him a little less than a year ago. He couldn't wrap his mind around how a brash American man, who was his opposite in almost every way, could become the most important person in his life. There was no rhyme or reason to it, no logic or rationale. He'd reached the conclusion that no amount of soul-searching would yield a satisfying explanation. It simply was what it was. His heart had found what it wanted and it wasn't letting go.
Turning his attention back to the task at hand, he poured the freshly brewed coffee into the pair of mugs, taking a moment to breathe in the heady aroma as the coffee mixed with the Irish whiskey and brown sugar he'd already placed in both mugs.
"Ianto?" Jack's voice called from the other room.
"Coming," he replied absently. He topped the mugs with whipped cream, then reached for the grated dark chocolate and sprinkled it carefully and evenly over both drinks.
"IANTO!" Jack hollered.
Ianto rolled his eyes. "Bloody impatient bugger," he muttered under his breath.
After scrutinising his efforts with a critical eye, he put the bowl of whipped cream back in the refrigerator and picked up the two mugs. Closing his eyes for a moment, he savoured the rich aroma again, and with a satisfied sigh, he made his way into the living room. He'd never made Irish coffee for Jack before, but had decided that it would be a nice way to thank Jack for his appearance at the book store the day before.
"What are you doing hiding away in there?" Jack asked, turning towards him. "Come over here." His eyes locked on the pair of mugs in Ianto's hands and widened with interest.
Ianto carefully put the drinks down on the coffee table, placing coasters neatly underneath each one. "Irish coffee," he announced with a small flourish. "Careful, it's hot. Give it a minute to cool off."
Jack leaned down and sniffed, licking his lips. "Wow, it smells incredible." Straightening up again, he narrowed his eyes. "Hey, what happened to your Santa hat?"
"Safely tucked away where you'll never find it," Ianto assured him.
"Spoilsport." Jack's mouth formed an exaggerated pout. "It suited you."
Ianto barely contained his eye-roll. According to Jack, just about everything suited him.
"So, what do you think?" Jack gestured grandly at the towering behemoth of a Christmas tree.
Ianto considered that it was fortunate the tree itself was such a strong, sturdy specimen. It was so heavily laden with lights, tinsel, and decorations that he was certain it would have already collapsed under its own weight otherwise. If he hadn't known differently, he wasn't sure he would have even realised there was a tree under all the ornamentation. As always, Jack didn't do anything by halves.
With a supreme show of willpower, he forced himself not to close his eyes against the riot of colour and mismatched ornaments that offended his every aesthetic sensibility. He was amused to notice that Moses seemed to share his sentiment. Mo was now curled up on his favourite armchair, back turned to the tree, his eyes closed and his head tucked in against his body, a paw draped over his face for good measure. Ianto made a mental note to treat the feline to a tin of his favourite tuna for tomorrow's breakfast.
Unsure of how well he was managing to hide his reaction, Ianto moved around behind Jack and wrapped his arms around the man's waist, settling his chin on Jack's shoulder. With a murmur of appreciation, Jack leaned back against him and joined their hands together.
Ianto kissed the bare skin of Jack's neck. "It's very... colourful," he offered. "Very... ah... festive." Cringing inwardly, he searched for something more complimentary. "I like the lights," he added, latching on to what was the least offensive aspect of the vision before him. Despite there being far too many, he had to admit that the multitude of twinkling lights were soothing and almost hypnotic.
"You really like it?" Jack pressed, not sounding convinced.
Ianto knew that Jack wanted their first Christmas together to be special, and he certainly couldn't fault Jack for his effort or enthusiasm. Even though he thought that the tree looked gaudy and excessive, he was touched by the thoughtfulness behind it. He decided that a little fib wouldn't hurt for the sake of domestic harmony and to spare Jack's feelings. Perhaps with a little judicious rearranging of some of the ornaments when Jack wasn't looking, it wouldn't be quite so bad. "Very much," he replied, giving Jack's midriff a reassuring squeeze and kissing his neck again.
"Hmm. I think it needs more tinsel," Jack murmured, his attention still focused on the tree.
Ianto almost failed to stifle a groan of despair. "No. Really, Jack... it's lovely just as it is." He turned Jack away from the tree. "Try your coffee."
To his relief, Jack was so enamoured with the Irish coffee that he seemed to forget about everything else. He performed some rapid tidying up, and they settled together on the sofa. They drank their coffees, the companionable silence punctuated by Jack's moans of pleasure.
"That was delicious." Jack put down his empty mug, reclined back into the sofa with a soft sigh, and patted his stomach. He tilted his head and looked at Ianto intently. "You really are amazing, do you know that?"
"I try my best." Ianto studied the relaxed and contented look on Jack's face. It struck him that there was little he wouldn't do to make Jack happy.
Jack gave him a soft smile that seemed equal parts amusement and affection.
"So, I spoke to Rhys today," Jack began a few moments later. "We're not too busy at the moment and it's been a while since I took any time off... apart from those few days when we were both sick. Anyway, I was thinking... when you go on your book tour next week, I could come with you."
"I can't expect you to do that," Ianto protested, startled by Jack's unexpected offer, but also excited by the possibility of Jack accompanying him. "I'd love you to come with me, but..."
"I'm not being entirely selfless," Jack interjected. "I'd much rather be with you than here on my own." He shrugged slightly. "I thought it might be fun. You won't be busy all the time, so we'll be able to do other things together. Sort of like a working holiday."
Ianto considered the idea. He hadn't relished the idea of another week apart since Jack had only just returned from his own work-related trip. "I suppose I could ask Jackie to look after Mo," he mused aloud. He wasn't overjoyed with the idea of leaving Moses on his own, but at the same time it wasn't fair to expect Jack to stay at home and cat-sit again while he was off swanning around the country. "I don't think she'd mind."
"That's what I was thinking. So, it's a plan?" Jack gave him a hopeful smile.
"Yup, it's a plan," Ianto agreed, smiling back.
"Great." Jack wrapped an arm around Ianto's shoulders and pulled him close, bringing their lips together in a kiss to seal the deal.
"Do you want to watch a film?" Ianto suggested, lifting his head from where he'd settled it on Jack's shoulder. "Or maybe we can find something decent on telly?"
Jack wiggled his eyebrows. "Actually, I've got something else in mind."
"Oh?" Ianto asked hopefully, the crotch of his jeans already tightening in anticipation.
Jack gave him a knowing look and laughed as he stood up. "Easy there, tiger. It's not what you're thinking."
"Bugger," Ianto muttered, not bothering to hide his disappointment. A few more moments and he would have been raring to go.
"You're getting as bad as me." Jack shook his head, an amused grin spreading across his face. "Maybe later if you behave yourself."
Jack reached for the remote control on the coffee table and thumbed on the audio system. Ianto frowned in confusion as a languid piano melody quietly filled the room. After a moment, he recognised the song as Journey's 'Open Arms'.
Jack smiled down at him, reaching for his hand as he gave a little bow. "Ianto Jones, may I have this dance?"
Ianto looked up at Jack in astonishment, but he allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. "Jack, I... I'm not much of a dancer." He chuckled nervously. "Two left feet. That's me."
"Doesn't matter." Jack moved them over to the empty space between the sofa and kitchen. "It's just the two of us." He gave Ianto a cheeky wink. "Anyway, I'm a good dancer so I'll lead."
Ianto looked at him doubtfully. "Nothing difficult, I promise," Jack added.
"All right," Ianto agreed hesitantly.
Jack positioned Ianto's left hand on his back and placed his right hand on Ianto's left shoulder. Pulling Ianto closer, he entwined the fingers of their other hands together and rested their joined hands against his chest. Jack smiled and took the lead, guiding Ianto to follow his steps as he moved them slowly in time to the music. Ianto stumbled a couple of times, feeling awkward and back-to-front, but Jack was patient and attentive and after a minute or so he settled into their rhythm.
"I still want to take you dancing some time." Jack's voice was soft and intimate as they held each other's gaze. "When you're ready and if you want to. But I figured there's no reason why we can't get in some practice in the meantime." He twirled them around and smiled again. "You're doing fine, by the way."
"It's been a long time since I've tried to dance," Ianto admitted.
Jack pulled him closer and brushed a light kiss against his lips. "Me too." He spun Ianto around in an outside turn, causing them both to laugh, then took Ianto back into his arms.
Ianto was struck by the absurdity of it all, not only of two men dancing together, but two men attired in Christmas themed t-shirts, complete with Jack in his Santa hat. At the same time, it was undeniably romantic, even more so because it was so surprising and unexpected. Jack never seemed to stop surprising him, and although it sometimes caught him off-guard, it was also one of the things he'd grown to love about the other man. Life with Jack was never boring; there was no doubt about that.
He moved closer to Jack, revelling in the pleasure of being in the arms of the other man. Jack's nearness was as intoxicating as ever, surrounding him with warmth and strength, comforting him while stimulating his senses and fuelling his desire. Happy in the knowledge that he was exactly where he wanted to be, he pressed his cheek against Jack's and closed his eyes as the song reached its chorus. Jack's arms encircled his waist and held him in a firm but gentle embrace, his lips trailing a series of soft kisses along the curve of Ianto's jaw.
The lyrics of the song seemed particularly poignant, almost as if they had been written just for them. The choice of the power ballad was quintessentially Jack – a little over-the-top, but classic and surprisingly sincere and meaningful. It seemed like the ideal song for their first dance together.
Ianto pressed his lips to Jack's and they shared a gentle, lingering kiss before settling back into a more conventional dance embrace. After a moment, Jack swirled them around again, then pulled him close once more. "Having fun?" he asked, smiling widely.
Ianto grinned in return. "Yeah... yeah, I am."
He wondered if this might become their Christmas tradition, gaudily decorated tree, comical t-shirts, and silly hats included. He decided he was more than okay with that.
Looking into Jack's smiling features, he had a flashback to the day they'd met, remembering the way Jack had grinned at him, all dimples, twinkling, mischievous eyes, and retina-searing white teeth. He'd thought that Jack was an obnoxious, ostentatious git. Now, looking into the same handsome face, he saw the man that he loved. This time Jack's smile was softer and more genuine, and the blue depths of his eyes, while still retaining a glimmer of playfulness, shone with undisguised joy. The differences were subtle, but they served to remind him of how far they'd both come, even though their journey together was, in many ways, just beginning.
The song ended too soon, but another one started a moment later. However, Jack reached for the remote and paused the music. He cradled Ianto's face in his hands as they kissed passionately and at length.
"Do you want to stop?" Jack asked as they eased apart, both of them a little breathless.
Ianto answered by reaching for the remote and resuming the music. They settled into each other's arms again and continued to dance.