"I love you, Ianto Jones."
Those were the five most important words Ianto had ever heard and he knew he would carry them in his heart forever. They may have come at the last moment but Ianto finally knew that he was truly loved by Jack, that he wasn't second, third or even fourth best. He, Ianto Jones, Torchwood Archivist and proud Welshman, was first in Jack Harkness’ heart. It didn’t matter how briefly he may have held that spot, just knowing it was his gave him enough strength to do what was needed.
Jack would live, he would live forever. He wouldn't be trapped in the Rift and soon the pain of his loss would fade. Jack would move on and find someone else to love and as much as it hurt Ianto to be the bigger man, he did not want Jack to live with his guilt forever.
"Good-bye, Jack Harkness, I love you and I always will," Ianto whispered under his breath as he pressed the button on the bomb that would forever seal the Rift and forever separate him from the love of his life. There would be no reunion between them in the afterlife once Jack had achieved his final death, no happily ever after for two star-crossed lovers. With tears in his eyes and an aching heart, Ianto’s last conscious act was to accept the fact that he would never lay eyes on Jack Harkness again.
Ianto Jones would be forever trapped in the Rift.
Letting his eyes flutter closed Ianto wanted Jack's face as he said those five precious words to be the last thing he ever saw. Heaven knows he’d been longing to hear the truth about Jack’s feelings for almost two years! With his lover's handsome face firmly in his mind’s eye Ianto released his last breath and let sweet oblivion wash over him. ‘I love you, Jack.’
However, in the what should have been the absolute darkness of nothing and nowhere, there was a light unlike anything Ianto had ever seen before and without warning, an unexpected and delicious warmth engulfed him, filling him to his very soul. A soft, melodic voice that reminded Ianto of his mother's before the sickness changed her whispered in his ear, "Rest gentle, Ianto, you have suffered so much in your young life. I can only hope that my gift will bring you some happiness. Know this, brave soul, you will meet Jack again." A soothing almost hypnotic hum began playing and despite how hard he fought against it Ianto found himself drifting off into a deep and peaceful sleep.
Once again the TARDIS had taken on her Idris image, – ‘I am rather fond of her, she has such beautiful fashion sense,’ – and as she sat next to her sweet Welshman’s sleeping form, Idris slowly ran her fingers through Ianto’s soft locks. “Oh my darling, you are too young to have suffered so much and I know you have lost so much and so many. And now, like my Jack, you will always carry a piece of my heart within you.
Idris turned so that she could pull Ianto into her arms and she rested her hand on his chest, feeling the gentle rise and fall of his breathing. “I cannot change what has passed but I can give you a new start. First I will place you with a family that will love you the way you always should have been.” As she spoke a golden glow engulfed her and Ianto and before her eyes time began to roll back until the young man whose head was resting on her lap was nothing more than a small babe one year old sleeping soundly in her arms. Without raising her head, she chuckled, “You may come out of hiding now, I know you are there.”
Appearing out of the shadows Loki grinned down at the peacefully sleeping face of the now de-aged Ianto Jones. "Oh he’s adorable! I know just the two people to raise him, they’re both so blind to their own feelings they could use a good swift kick in the pants to get them to start acting on those feelings."
A mischievous giggle escaped the TARDIS’ perfectly-shaped human mouth; she had a feeling she knew exactly who the god was talking about and it really tickled her mischievous side. It was the all-important side of her normally oh-so-serious self that had allowed her lonely angel to kidnap her and who was all in with Loki's plan. She was sure that the two people Loki had chosen would take good care of her little one until it was time for him and Jack to be reunited.
She smiled down at the innocent babe in her arms; the two foolish men had yet to realise that they were soul-bonded and would remain so through the end of time. Jack had given his soul to Ianto as Ianto had with Jack and now, with the power of the Rift, Ianto would live forever at Jack’s side. But the TARDIS had an especially soft spot in her heart for Ianto and she really wanted to do more for him than provide him with a future; she wanted to give him the childhood he had been so cruelly robbed of. This time around he would have a loving family who would nurture his spirit and care for him and then, when the time was right, she would bring Jack to Ianto and finally the two would be reunited.
Idris gazed at Loki with absolute seriousness in her brown eyes. “You will look after him when I cannot?” She would not trust Ianto’s safety to anyone but Loki.
In that moment, Loki knew that he was being given a truly great gift; the TARDIS was bestowing her trust in him. “I will look after him, you have my word.” Loki wasn't sure what it was about Ianto Jones that made him open his heart so willingly, but he’d warmed instantly to the young man. 'Maybe because he reminds me of me, so often overlooked in favour of the more demanding and forceful personalities, always forgotten and alone until needed for the most basic task and once that was done promptly forgotten again. To love someone and not have them notice you, to treat you as if you were completely invisible, and worse, to have to stand by and watch as their gaze was continually drawn to another.'
Yes, Loki saw a lot of himself in Ianto Jones and having endured his own time trapped in a one-sided relationship, able to see the one he loved but not allowed to be a part of their everyday life, he found he could not allow Ianto to suffer as he had. 'And in maybe helping Ianto I can work on redeeming myself to the only one who truly matters to me.' It was Loki’s deepest wish that the man who held his heart would someday love him in return.
The TARDIS smiled as she carefully handed Ianto over to Loki and her smile grew when she saw the tender way that Loki held the tiny child cradled against his chest. "Ianto will be loved by his new family and I promise that you shall gain the forgiveness your soul craves."
"But you cannot grantee that Thor will come to love me." The pure sadness reflected in Loki’s eyes touched Idris deeply. She knew that he’d seen first-hand how deeply his brother loved his human, but in his heart, Loki knew his love would forever be one-sided.
Leaning forward the TARDIS brushed a gentle kiss across Loki's forehead. "Do not yet fret, my lost one, true bonds cannot be denied. Yes, Thor's love for Jane is real but she is not the one his soul truly calls for and nor is he the one whose soul calls to hers. Just give it time and soon the truth will be revealed."
The TARDIS knew – she’d always known – that Loki and Thor, much like Jack and Ianto, were destined to be together but she could not tell Loki how he and Thor would finally find their way to one another. The details were hazy even to her and that was because she tried never to see the future of gods. As powerful as she was she could only see bits and pieces of their future but she knew that the precious bundle in Loki’s arms was an extremely vital key to it all. “I think it’s time we take Ianto to his new family.”
There was a large part of Loki that didn’t want to give up Ianto; the small boy had awoken and lay calmly in his arms just looking up at him. Pure trust shone in his blue-grey eyes and it touched Loki so deeply because it had been a long time since anyone had looked at Loki like that. “Do we have to?” He just wasn’t ready to part with Ianto just yet.
Favouring him with a knowing smile the TARDIS shook her head. “We can wait a little longer. Time is of no issue here.”
Delighted by the opportunity to hold the baby for a while longer, Loki smiled down at Ianto as he let him grip onto his outstretched finger. His indulgent smile belied the serious intensity of his next words, “I promise you, Ianto, I swear to you that no one will ever hurt you again.” Like Idris, Loki knew all the horrible details of Ianto’s original childhood, the mental, physical and emotional abuse that he’d endured at home as well as the relentless bullying he’d suffered at school.
Tony Stark was bored and when he was bored nothing good ever happened, but he was still recovering from the injuries he’d received after flying into a black hole to save the world, which meant that Pepper and JARVIS had drastically limited his lab time. In fact, until SHIELD’s medical staff gave him the 100% all-clear, he wasn’t allowed in his lab unsupervised; if Tony wasn’t accompanied by a responsible adult – or AI – the lab’s door was sealed, just in case he tried to sneak in on his own. That little touch was Pepper’s idea because, “We are dealing with Tony Stark here!”
“It’s not fair!” Tony mumbled under his breath as he kicked at the lab’s table leg like a three-year-old. Even Dummy had more authority than him, it was just wrong. Every time he wanted to start a project, either Dummy or JARVIS told him it was too dangerous, or the tools were too sharp, or the worst of all, he just wasn’t up to it yet.
“Sir, are you pouting again?” JARVIS asked.
“I do not pout and I do not speak to traitors,” Tony huffed mutinously as he crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the far wall.
“If you like, Sir, I can list at least thirty incidents in which you did indeed pout. Would you like me to pull up the security footage to help jog your memory?” JARVIS asked in a tone that was just way too innocent to be accidental.
But Tony knew better and began grumbling under his breath, muttering threats about system upgrades, personality improvements and the removal of a certain someone’s sarcasm program.
As Tony threatened JARVIS for not letting him have any fun and Dummy hovered behind him like a nervous shadow waiting to rescue them all from the next Tony-caused disaster, none of them felt the change in the air as time itself gradually slowed in Tony’s lab until it stopped completely and they were frozen in place.
Time and energy flowed around her and the child in her arms with a golden glow; it was a part of her just as it was now a part of Ianto. The TARDIS hummed a gentle tune under her breath as she searched for a safe area to place the child but as she looked around at the chaos and clutter she found all around her, Idris shook her head in dismay. “How do you get anything done in a mess like this?” she asked Tony, forgetting for a moment that he couldn’t hear her. She began methodically removing all the dangerous tools and sharp pieces of metal from the worktable until it was clear of everything that might find its way into a curious boy’s hands or mouth.
Tucking the blanket tightly around Ianto, she sat the small child on the table and placed beside Ianto the stuffed bunny that Loki had conjured up for him and which the little boy had fallen in love with the moment he’d laid his eyes on it.
“I will miss you so much, my little angel.” The TARDIS gently brushed back Ianto’s soft curls and pressed a tender, loving kiss onto his forehead. “Please go easy on your fathers. Just remember they haven’t had much experience with children so give them time to settle in before you wrap them around your little finger.”
Ianto just smiled happily and gurgled nonsensical words as he played with his stuffed bunny but the TARDIS could see the gleam of mischief in his eyes. She was torn between laughing or and sighing over the future. ‘It would seem that Ianto has picked up Loki’s love of mischief. I’m afraid the Avengers and SHIELD won’t know what hit them!’
Idris looked down at Ianto as he batted at her with his bunny. “Just remember that your Uncle Loki and I will be watching over you and whenever you need us we’ll be here,” she promised him before turning her gaze onto the frozen Tony. “You better take good care of him, young man, or you will have to answer to me.” She threatened him even though she knew Tony couldn’t hear her; it just felt good to do so.
Unable to delay the inevitable, Idris hugged the little boy who’d stolen her heart. “Be a good boy and when you’ve grown into a man, I’ll bring you the one person in the Universe who holds the key to your heart.” Next to Ianto she placed a simple note explaining everything that Tony needed to know. ‘Let’s just hope he notices it.’
As the TARDIS’ image of Idris dissolved back into the time stream the world once again began to move and life returned to normal.
“It’s not like I’m going to blow up the place if I…” Tony found himself staring at his central work table. One moment it had been full of the many intricate pieces of his newest project and now it was completely cleared off and a tiny child was sitting in their place. Tony walked a little bit closer and blinked in surprise when the tiny human smiled brightly and blinked back at him. "Umm… JARVIS, why is there a baby sitting in the middle of my lab?"
"I have no clue, Sir."
"Not all that helpful there, JARVIS." Still eyeing the child with suspicion, Tony took a tentative step forward not quite sure what to do with someone so tiny. “Dummy, any ideas?”
Dummy shook his head vigorously. He knew what a baby was as well as the purpose it served, he’d just never seen a real one before and although he maintained his distance, he was studying the small creature closely.
"JARVIS, call Pepper, now!" He was sure his ex-girlfriend would know what to do with the boy; she was a female, after all. As he waited for JARVIS to get in contact with Pepper looked him over; ‘Should I be doing something with it?’ he wondered. ‘I’m not even sure I know how to hold a child!' For several moments Tony just stared at the child, although Ianto had lost interest in him and began playing with his bunny instead.
‘I think I should feel insulted that a stuffed animal is more interesting than me.’ As he watched Ianto playing, he was quite tempted to smile but didn’t, he frowned instead. 'This is why Tony Stark doesn’t do children; they have no interest in my awesomeness.' Tony shook his head disapprovingly; “You don’t know what you’re missing, kid.”
"Miss Potts is on the line, Sir." JARVIS handed the telephone to him.
“Hey there, my friend,” Tony tried to sound nonchalant.
A sigh came over the line followed by the rustling of papers. "What is it this time, Tony? I'm very busy trying to run your company."
Deciding that this time at least the direct approach was the best, Tony bluntly announced, "Pepper, there is a child in my lab."
Silenced reigned supreme for a moment and then, "I'm sorry, Tony; there must be something wrong with our connection because I'm sure I just heard you say you have a baby in your lab."
Tony held the phone out for a moment and scowled at it. “That is exactly what I said. There. Is. A. Baby. In. My. Lab.” He enunciated each word very clearly so there’d be no mistake the second time around.
“And I need you to do something with it, Pepper! I know absolutely nothing about babies!”
As Tony’s voice grew louder and more upset the baby’s big blue eyes filled with tears and to then, Tony’s abject horror, the baby began to cry. Great gulping sobs filled the lab as Ianto stared at Tony miserably.
“Pepper, do something!” Tony yelled desperately, trying to be heard over the baby’s howls.
“Tony! It’s a baby; it’s not going to blow up! Now for heaven’s sake, pick him up and comfort him.” Pepper issued her orders in a voice as hard as steel. She hadn’t believed Tony when he said there was a child in his lab, sure that he was trying to get back at her for limiting his activities, but now that she could hear the baby she instinctively fell into mother-mode.
Shuddering Tony remembered why it was not wise to anger this particular redhead or any of the redhead’s he knew, in fact. “Right, picking up the baby this very moment,” after setting the phone down on the table and taking a deep breath Tony approached the crying toddler as if he was a time bomb about to go off. Pretending that they weren’t shaking, he slid his hands under the tiny armpits and lifted the child in the air. “There, there, let’s stop with the tears,” Tony cooed in what he hoped was a soft and reassuring voice. “Think manly thoughts, kid, like puppies and robots and fast cars.”
Somehow he succeeded because the loud sobbing slowed to tiny whimpers and for the next few moments Tony and the child just stared at one another. The tears became sniffles that eventually stopped completely when Tony brought the child to rest against his chest. Trying not to be obvious about it, because JARVIS and Dummy were both watching him, Tony bent his head, irresistibly drawn to sniff Ianto’s head, and he was struck by his sweet, clean baby smell. Against his will touch, macho Tony Stark smiled and snuggled the baby closer to his chest.
A piece of white paper caught his attention. “Whose uses paper anymore?” Tony muttered under his breath as he shifted Ianto just enough to get one hand free so he could reach out to grasp it. The sheet felt odd in his fingers, he was so used to using data pads and keyboards. It took a deft shake to unfold the paper and as he read the words written there, his mouth dropped open in absolute shock.
‘His name is Ianto and he is your son, Mr Stark. Take good care of him.’
Tony could only stare in horror at the note; his brain was screaming at him, ‘Are you kidding me? I can’t be a father!' He wasn’t mentally mature enough to be responsible for a dog, let alone a child. ‘Why else do I have maintenance-free robots and AIs?’ So as usual, Tony did the only thing he could do, he looked around, located the phone and roared as loudly as he could, “Pepper!”
“Oh, really, Sir!” JARVIS snorted sarcastically as Ianto immediately jerked violently and burst into ear-splitting shrieks of shock, fear and anger.
Pepper Potts loved Tony, really she did, just not enough to stay in a relationship with him, not when despite both their best efforts it just wasn’t meant to be, not when both of them had another that they and their hearts longed for. Looking back on their time together, Pepper didn’t know who Tony thought he was fooling besides himself and Steve when it was so clear that he’s a little in love with the legend himself. In her heart, Pepper had always known that there was no way she could compete with Steve Rogers; she’d often wondered what it would take to get either man would act on the obvious sexual tension between them because quite frankly, everyone around them would be so much happier.
Through the receiver, Pepper could hear the baby screaming again. “What is it now, Tony?” Already resigned to the fact that once again thanks to Tony her day was shot, she was in the middle of packing her things and rearranging her schedule; she wondered what new crisis Tony was experiencing now after only a few seconds of silence.
“There’s a note here saying he’s my son!” Tony’s shrill panicky voice came over the line.
The sheaf of papers in Pepper’s hand fell from her loose grip onto her desk and then went cascading to the floor. “Your son? You have a son? Tony!” She wasn’t sure if she was sad, happy or jealous of the news.
Tony stared in shock at the boy lying in his arms and shrieking, his cute face all red and blotchy while his little fists beat against Tony’s chest. “I didn’t know I have a son! I have no idea how this happened!” Again there was a derisive snort from JARVIS but Tony ignored him. “Help me, Pepper! What should I do?” Tony was a gifted genius when it came to cutting-edge technology, he could easily seduce and play other people to his will, but when it came to children he was at a total loss of what to do.
“Remain calm, Tony; I’m on my way. I’m going to call Bruce and see if he can meet us at the tower; hopefully he can help shed some light on just who your young guest is.” Slipping her laptop into her case and gathering up her jacket, she paused as a thought came to her. “Oh and, Tony?”
“Yeah?” Tony was desperately bouncing the baby – well, jostling him was a better description of the motion Ianto was making – trying to calm him down and he missed the warning tone of her voice.
“That child had better not still be anywhere near your lab; it’s not safe for a baby!” Pepper growled menacingly.
Knowing that tone all too well Tony began to very hastily make his way out of his lab, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from retorting that “I may not know much about children but even I know that a child doesn't belong in my lab!" but he didn’t because he wasn’t quite out the door yet. He glanced down at the baby in his arms and couldn’t help but smile; at some point Ianto had stopped crying and his blue eyes were taking in everything around him with childlike awe.
The look of wonder on the little boy’s face made Tony’s heart fill with joy and his own smile appeared on his face; he had to admit that Ianto was kind of adorable. ‘And if he turns out to be my son then I would expect nothing less than that.’ Once he was safely out of the lab and in the hallway, he announced, "We're heading for the living room. I'm not completely hopeless, Pepper; I know a lab is no place for a child."
Reaching the living room Tony faced a new problem; it was a very masculine room, with books everywhere and lots of heavy furniture. Unsure of what to do and since there was no children’s toys anywhere in his tower, 'Well Barton might have a few but I'm not about to expose Ianto to that death trap.' The team had learned the hard way that Clint liked to booby-trap his room, not with anything really harmful but Tony’s skin had been Smurf-blue for a week after triggering one of Clint's traps. With a stroke of desperate genius, Tony did the only thing he could think of to keep Ianto entertained, “JARVIS, find some cartoons that Ianto can watch.”
“Right away, Sir.” JARVIS turned on the TV to one of the children’s networks dedicated to programming for young children.
Not knowing if he should place Ianto on the ground or not – what if he fell over or worse, what if he crawled away –Tony chose to sit down on his couch with Ianto still curled up against his chest. He kept glancing back and forth between the TV and Ianto, watching with fascination the way Ianto’s eyes were glued to the television following the characters’ movements. He had no idea what was on, it looked like some kind of show about building stuff which was a perfect show for the son of Tony Stark. ‘That is if he is my son.'
"JARVIS, any word on when the others should be back?" Tony didn't want to chance of them disturbing Ianto; he could see that the little boy’s eyes were growing heavy and he knew that he’d soon have a sleeping baby in his arms.
"Unclear, Sir. Agents Barton and Coulson are on assignment and their return is uncertain; Thor is with Doctor Foster and should be back later this evening. Captain Rogers and Agent Romanoff should be back once they've finished their meeting with Director Fury," JARVIS informed him with his usual efficiency.
"One thing, JARVIS, Legolas and Super Agent aren't really on assignment; they took a romantic little get-away. They just said it was an assignment so SHIELD would have to pay for it," Tony corrected his AI. Not that he could blame them, it had been hard on everyone when they’d believed Agent Phil Coulson to be dead but no one knew how much harder Clint took his passing. From the moment they’d learned that Coulson was alive and well not one of the team rested until they’d discovered where Fury had hidden Coulson away.
Faced with the combined wrath of the Avengers, Fury proved that he deserved the title of Director and he did the smart thing: he informed them which hospital Phil was being treated in. Tony hadn't wasted any time in arranging Coulson's transfer to a room in the tower that JARVIS and Dummy had quickly prepared, a room that he quickly learned would be shared with Clint. Unbeknownst to anyone else on the team, but Natasha, the two of them had been involved for some time which explained why Clint really didn't react well to his partner's fake death no matter how well it worked out in the end.
Shaking off his thoughts, Tony glanced down and saw that as he’d predicted, Ianto was sound asleep, cuddled against his chest like he belonged there. Feeling oddly content, Iron Man settled in and started paying attention to the TV and soon, despite it being a children's show, Tony found himself be drawn into the storyline. Of course being the technological genius he was, he soon began making comments – quiet comments –about how the work would never hold up in the real world.