"Oh, boys!" Kath exclaims, "this is absolutely gorgeous!"
She's taken Nigel's hand as though for stability after their emotional morning and is gripping onto it so tightly his knuckles are turning white. He doesn't complain though, barely even seems to notice, trailing after her with such an obvious sense of awe written all over his face as he takes in their surroundings. Whenever he looks ahead at Phil, Dan watches as his father-in-law somehow grows taller, beaming with unmistakable pride at his son. Phil's leading the way, giddy with excitement and waving his hands about madly as he gives them the grand tour.
He keeps going off on tangents about various ornaments, artworks, plants, photos - pretty much anything they pass as they work their way through room after room, barely finishing one anecdote before getting distracted and jumping straight into the next. And the thing is, Dan knows they’ve heard it all before on their weekly Zoom calls, because he was there gushing about it all too. But Kath and Nigel are listening to Phil’s ramblings so intently, completely enraptured and hanging off his every word that Phil may as well be recounting the Second Coming.
And Dan’s hardly any better - grinning from ear to ear as he watches the man he loves finally, finally, getting to inhabit the same space as his parents for the first time in well over a year.
Phil’s leading them out of the kitchen now and down the hallway to show them the office, and then onto their bedroom for the next week. Dan hangs back on the guise of making a round of tea for the weary travellers, but really he wants to give Phil a bit of time and space with his family.
Martyn and Cornelia and Freja will be here soon, bringing with them another wave of emotion - Dan’s prepared to put serious money on there not being a dry eye in the room. The reunion at the airport had already set the tone on that front. Dan had never been hugged more tightly in his life, and he’s surprised Phil hadn’t broken a rib or two from the sheer force with which Kath had thrown herself into his arms in the Heathrow Arrivals Lounge and refused to let go of him for a full ten minutes after. Just as well they’d had the foresight to suggest Martyn and co meet them at the apartment rather than the airport. Dan’s sure that meeting their new grandbaby for the first time on top of the excitement of being reunited with both her sons at once would’ve been too much for Kath to handle. Plus, it saves Martyn and Corn the trouble of trekking all the way to the airport with a baby in tow before 9am.
“Come up and see the outside space now, Mum! Dad, you’re gonna love it. Did you bring your art stuff like I told you to?” Phil’s hurtling back down their hallway like nobody’s business, his parents close on his heel, just as Dan’s setting out four mismatched mugs on the breakfast bar. Some things never change.
Phil flashes him the biggest, widest grin, slips an arm round his waist and presses a quick kiss to his cheek as he passes before he's off again, quick as a flash, leading his parents up the stairs and letting out this adorable giddy squeal of excitement as he goes. Dan laughs loud and fond at their retreating backs as he pours a splash of milk into each mug and shakes his head at his own ridiculousness. He shouldn't be blushing like a schoolgirl over a kiss on the cheek in front of his in-laws after more than a decade of shared life together, and yet, here he is.
By the time the tea is poured and Dan's precariously making his way up the stairs with two mugs in each hand, there's a suspicious lack of noise up top. For a second or two, he's worried something might have happened, but as he rounds the corner at the top of the staircase and pokes his head around the door he immediately sees why.
Phil's whistle stop tour seems to have reached its natural end. Instead, the Lesters are crowded round the edge of the balcony, arms wrapped loosely around each other in the fondest embrace, and looking out at the bustling cityscape below.
Dan hesitates in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt the intimate moment. He wishes his hands weren't full so he could snap a quick photo of the scene; Phil bending down to rest his head on top of Kath's, her hand gently rubbing between his shoulder blades, Nigel on their other side leaning into Phil, whose arm is slung across his shoulder. It's been 16 months since Dan last saw them in this exact formation as they wandered round the Saatchi Gallery excitedly pointing out the ancient Egyptian artifacts to one another - but looking at them like this now, settled, comfortable, familiar as ever in each other's presence and it could've just as easily been last week.
Dan's just looking for somewhere to quietly set the teas down and surreptitiously back out to give them some space when his arm catches on the door handle. Phil turns round from his parents' embrace at the sound, a soft smile forming on his face when his eyes land on Dan. Dan grimaces at him in silent apology, but Phil only shakes his head back at him fondly and beckons him over with a wave of his arm.
Dan sets the mugs down on the glass table by the pool and crosses over to them. He can't help but feel slightly awkward, family's never come naturally to him, and here, out of practice after over a year of lockdown, he feels like the odd one out all over again, right on the edge of the familial unit and unsure of his place within it.
He doesn't need to worry though, no sooner has he reached them and Phil's there curling an arm around his waist and pulling him in. He goes willingly, leans into Phil's space and places his own hand on Phil's hip.
"There you are, love! We were wondering where you'd got to," Kath says, stepping up on his other side with a smile. Dan's midway through mumbling excuses about the tea when she links an arm through his and tucks her head gently into his chest. He's so taken aback by the action that his breath catches in his throat for a moment before he reciprocates and draws her close too.
"It's really something up here, boys," she tells them. "You've got yourselves something very special."
They all murmur their agreement as they look out at the view of the sprawling metropolis, high up enough that they're somewhat removed from the sounds of the traffic and people going about their daily business below. The sun is beaming down at them from the wide abyss of blue skies with barely a cloud in sight. Dan lets out a slow sigh, basking in the warmth and ever grateful for the London micro-climate in the summer months with its lack of breeze and little temperature boost it has over the rest of the UK. He's not used to their new view yet; he's not sure he ever will be.
Phil's arm tightens around him, thumb rubbing small circles at his waist through his shirt and when Dan looks at him, Phil's already looking right back.
“Who’d have thought it, 'ey?” says Nigel, breaking the silence that had settled around them. “When you first started making those funny little videos on the internet, that it would have led to this.”
“I know, Dad,” Phil replies softly without taking his eyes off Dan's. “It’s mad.”
"All those photos you sent us were beautiful, but it looks even better in person, son."
"You'll paint it for me, won't you, Nige," Kath says. "I want to see the same views my boys see every day. We've got space in the kitchen for a new painting, you know, by the breakfast table."
"'Course. Anything for you, darling." He shares a look with Kath, his smile deepening the crinkles around his eyes.
"Good!" She says, reaching out and patting at his arm. "I want anything that'll help me feel closer to these boys after the horrible year we've all had." She turns to Dan and Phil. "And you boys had better be visiting once a month from now on, I won't accept anything less. We've got a lot of lost time to make up for!"
Dan grins down at her as Phil laughs by his side.
“Oh, don’t you worry, Mum. We’ll be there. You’ll be desperate to get rid of us before long!”
“Not possible!” she laughs, swatting at him with the back of her hand. “I could never get sick of my boys.” Her eyes linger on Dan as she says this and she smiles at him encouragingly, patting the arm he’s still got looped through hers. Immediately Dan's hit by a tidal wave of gratitude and affection for her. She'd accepted him right from the start, no questions asked, even when he'd been the most annoying prat of an 18 year old bouncing around her son and showing off like an adoring, hyperactive puppy. There was never any doubt there. But it's more than that now, more than acceptance or tolerance. She's known him for over a decade, watched as Dan intertwined his life with Phil's, stood by them as they started to navigate the perils of adult life together, and supported them through every painstaking mistake they'd made along the way. As she smiles up at him, Dan realises that somehow along this decade-long, dizzying whirlwind of a journey he and Phil have been on, Kath and Nigel have become just as much his family as they are Phil's.
“Or my girls for that matter!" She adds easily, unaware of Dan's revelation, turning to Phil. "What on earth is taking that brother of yours so long, child?”
Phil pretends to think for a moment. “Hmm. Probably the 7 month old baby they've got in tow, Mum, if I had to hazard a guess."
Phil laughs at her as she swats at him again, muttering about cheeky boys and not being too old for a good hiding.
"Hey!" He protests and Dan giggles at the genuine outrage on his face. "You haven't seen me for almost a year and a half and this is how you treat me? Your angelic youngest child?"
"Well now, Philip," Kath deadpans, "unfortunately for you, you're not the baby of the family anymore!"
Phil pouts, but Kath only laughs at him and reaches up to boop him on the nose. He relents, dropping the act with a giggle and pulling her in for a hug.
And this is it really. This is what Dan loves the most about the Lesters. The easy, companionable banter, the teasing, the laughter, the fun, but underneath it all this unmistakable sense of unconditional love and affection in every action. And he’d almost forgotten what it’s like to be physically there in those moments, how sure they are around each other, how he can see that bond between them, and how strong an emotional response it evokes for Dan. Processing those raw emotions isn’t something that comes naturally to him after a childhood of repression. It’s the whole reason behind his loud, self-deprecating on-camera persona, the chaotic hilarity of his chemistry with Phil. If messing around like idiots together could be considered a love language, then Dan’s certain that would be his and Phil’s.
And he’s used to being that way with Phil, just the two of them together in their little bubble of gay chaos. But watching it unfold around him with Phil’s family somehow adds a whole other dimension. One he’s just not used to anymore after its absence over the past 16 months.
Of course, they’d had Zoom. But, as much as technology has progressed in recent years, it’s just not the same as being physically in the same space together. The Zoom interference, pesky lags, blurred faces and accidental mid-sentence mutings putting just enough of an obstacle in their way that, try as they might, they just couldn’t get round without being there in person.
But no. They’re finally here for real now, basking in the comfortable togetherness of it all.
The doorbell rings, distant, yet insistent down in the apartment below.
“Oh!” Kath exclaims, jerking out of Phil’s embrace. “Oh my goodness, they’re here!”
She looks like a rabbit in the headlights, suddenly frozen to the spot and utterly overwhelmed with sheer joy as she clings onto her husband and son on either side of her. There are tears welling up in her eyes and she laughs wetly and flustered at herself. Dan beams back at her, and can’t help but think how lucky he is to be able to share in this moment of elation and precious, precious love. He looks at Phil who’s looking at his parents like they’re about to break. Dan knows it’s up to him to take charge of the situation. Do for the Lesters what they’ve been doing for him his whole adult life.
“I’ll bring them right up,” he promises softly.
Phil turns to him with the most grateful look in eyes and it’s this that Dan carries with him as he jogs down the stairs to their front door, listening out for the telltale signs of the gurgling baby behind it. This that he thinks of as flings the door wide open to greet their excited guests with hugs and, in Freja’s case, lots of cooing as he chivvies them up the stairs to his family above. Because that’s what family is about, Dan thinks; supporting one another, being there for one another, and making each other happy. And after the long and arduous year and a half they’ve all had, it’s certainly nice to be able to make up for lost time.