It was with deep and obvious reluctance that Steve and Tony handed Ianto back to the newcomer who they now knew to be Jack Harkness, and it was clear that they were missing something important given the way Jack was cradling Ianto like he was the most precious gift in the Universe.
The Hulk had easily taken care of the few remaining A.I.M. soldiers who had been stupid enough to try and face him down, while the other Avengers collected the ones who managed to slip past him. Once the building had been cleared of all enemy soldiers, it was searched a second time, but it quickly became clear that whoever had been running the show was long gone.
Tension started running high between everyone as it became clear that Ianto didn't want to leave Jack's arms, not even to join his fathers, something that didn't sit well with Steve, Tony or any of the others. There was a unanimous feeling of ‘just who does this guy think he is?’ evident on everyone’s face.
Tony's eyes narrowed with unbridled jealousy as he watched the way Jack Harkness tenderly held his son, Ianto, while the toddler cooed happily as he wrapped his tiny fingers in the blue fabric and rested his head on Jack's chest. Tony looked over at Steve, who was standing next to him, and he could clearly see that his partner didn’t like situation at all. “I’ll take my son back now, thank you very much.” Tony’s voice was polite but sharp.
Jack tightened his grip on Ianto; both he and his heart were simply not ready to let go of the child-version of the love of his life and although he was too young to understand why, Ianto in turn instinctively clung firmly to Jack not ready to let go of him just yet.
Sensing a potential problem, the Doctor nonchalantly intervened. "Phil, is that you?" the Time Lord asked.
Phil Coulson smiled a warm welcome at the Time Lord. "It is good to see you again, Doctor."
Clint glanced suspiciously between his lover and the newcomer and he moved much closer to his partner, determined to make his claim to Phil quite obvious. "You two know each other?"
Naturally, being the Doctor and always oblivious to the emotional interaction between humans was completely unaware of the tension and jealousy burning within Clint and the Doctor just grinned brightly at him. "Oh yes, Phil and I go way back, don’t we, old friend? He helped me out a few times back when I was travelling with Rose; oh, the stories I could tell you! You know, Phil, that offer to travel with me is still open."
Next to him Coulson felt Clint stiffen completely and he knew his lover was waiting to find out if he was about to lose his partner to the wonders of the Universe. As far as Phil was concerned, there was only one answer he could possibly and he did so as graciously as he could. "Thank you for the offer but I'm very happy here, plus someone needs to keep an eye on this group,” and he gave a wave that encompassed the small crowd around them. “But if you don't mind me asking, would you tell us just what you’re doing here?"
The Doctor cast a quick glance at Jack who was smiling down at the boy in his arms, listening intently to every word Ianto was saying. Ianto was busy talking away at a mile a minute to him, telling him all about his new life with the Avengers and with his new fathers. His story was clearly very exciting because it involved a lot of arm waving and loud giggles.
The scene warmed the old Time Lord’s heart and reminded him of his own family life so many centuries ago. "It's a long story full of love and joy as well as pain and heartbreak. I take it you've heard of the 456?" He knew they had, the aliens had had a worldwide effect during their short time on Earth.
When the others nodded the Doctor began telling the story of everything that had happened from the moment Jack and Ianto confronted the 456 to their fatal confrontation with them in Thames House to Ianto's miraculous rebirth as a child. 'Thank you, Sexy, what you’ve done is truly wonderful and I’m very grateful, but we are going to have a long talk about keeping things like this from me in the future,' the Doctor firmly informed his ship as she showed him everything that had happened from start to finish.
"So our Ianto is his Ianto." It was rather heartbreaking to hear how tragically the love story between Jack and Ianto had ended. Not caring who saw them, Steve had a tight grip on Tony’s hand as he watched Jack’s obvious affection for and connection with their son. There was absolutely no mistaking the pure love glowing in the man’s eyes as he stroked the side of Ianto’s face.
"Yes, he is," Loki murmured under his breath as he watched the two of them together. He was well acquainted with Jack’s reputation as an intergalactic playboy, but he knew that where Ianto was concerned Jack’s philandering days were over.
Despite how touching the reunion between Jack and Ianto was, the God of Thunder had a reunion of his own to worry about. "What I do not understand is how you came to be here, brother?" Thor had never seen such softness in his brother's eyes as he witnessed while Loki watched Jack and Ianto together and a huge part of him yearned desperately for Loki to look at him like that.
Reluctant to take his eyes from Ianto, Loki turned to face his brother. "When I fell from the Rainbow Bridge I fell through all of time and space as well and it was there that I met Idris, the human form of the TARDIS. To my surprise, in her I found someone who actually listened to my troubles and who truly cared for my wounded soul; it was a wonderful experience. Even after you captured me the TARDIS was still there as my friend whenever I need her most. Along the way I was fortunate enough to get to know those she cared about but none of them struck a chord with me as Ianto did.”
Loki smiled softly. There is something about him that resonates in my soul, so when the Rift was absorbed into Ianto Idris and I came up with the plan to give Ianto a new life, with a better childhood and a true chance at pure love."
Thor firmly refused to believe that it was jealousy he was feeling at the way Loki talked about Idris and Ianto.
Paying no attention to the discussion between Thor and Loki, Phil was focused on Jack and Ianto. "He's far too young even for you, Harkness, and if you try anything it doesn't matter how long it takes I will find a way to make your next death stick," Coulson warned Jack in an almost friendly tone but the look in his eyes made it clear that he wasn’t making a simple, idle threat; it was a promise that he would fulfil even if it took him the rest of his life. Phil Coulson took his role as uncle very seriously.
Jack was happy relieved to see that Ianto had such a loving and loyal family to keep him safe. With deep regret in both his eyes and his voice, the immortal announced, "I can't stay around, not when Ianto is so close yet so very far, it wouldn't be fair to me or to him."
Tony didn’t like Jack, father or not, he personally thought Jack should have treated Ianto much better when they were together, but it was clear that the pain of Ianto's death still haunted him. Tony had to admit that he couldn't imagine having to watch Steve die in his arms, only to get him back a second time but as a child. He didn’t think there was any power in the Universe that could force him to be a part of his life, to watch Steve grow up and yet be unable to be with him.
"You don't have to leave right away, Jack, you can stay for a little longer." Tony couldn't believe he was saying this. “Spend some more time with Ianto?” He knew Steve was amazed and confused, but he refused to look at him.
Jack knew that somehow, fate had given him a second chance with Ianto and this time he was determined that he would do things right. When Ianto was old enough Jack return and he would treat him the young man the way he should have the first time around. He would make sure knew that always knew just how special he was to him and how deeply and purely he was loved. As much as it broke his heart, Jack knew he couldn’t be a part of his life before then because it would be too hard and Jack knew he wasn’t that strong.
"Thank you for the offer, but I think it would be better for me to take my leave before I get too attached to Ianto."
"'ack no go," Ianto pleaded softly and it tore at Jack's heart to see tears well up in Ianto's eyes and spill down his cheeks. “’ack?” He reached up and patted Jack’s face.
One look into those beautiful blue eyes and Jack was lost. "I guess I can stay for a little while." He was well aware that he was going to have to deal with the pain his decision would surely bring, but he couldn't deny Ianto anything and as much as it was going to hurt he was eternally grateful that he was being given another chance with Ianto.
It was the longest week of life as he stayed in the Tower and watched Ianto with his new family. He was so pleased to see that Ianto had a chance to have a normal and happy life surrounded by people who loved him and were eager to guide him through life. But the entire time was tainted by the knowledge and pain that he couldn't stay any longer. Unable to be with Ianto was ripping at his soul.
It would be heart-wrenchingly impossible to stay there and watch Ianto grow up knowing he couldn’t flirt with him, couldn’t woo him, and above all, couldn’t touch him until he was old enough. While Jack knew he was physically strong enough to obey the rules, emotionally… well, that was a different story. How would he handle seeing the man he loved enduring his first teen-age crush, going out on his first date, sharing his first kiss? He couldn’t deny Ianto any of the milestones involved in growing up but that didn’t mean he could stand by and watch them go by.
The most important thing in the Universe was that Ianto was happy and that was all that mattered to Jack. When his self-imposed deadline of seven days came to its end, he knew it was time to go; no matter how desperately he wanted to stay, he knew he couldn’t. Ianto deserved a normal life and he wouldn’t have that with Jack always lurking in the background. Jack was determined to remain hidden from Ianto until the day his beloved Welshman was old enough to touch and on that day, he would return and give Ianto what was his and his alone – Jack’s heart.
He waited until Ianto was asleep and the Avengers were all downstairs enjoying their evening before slipping into his room. "It always seems like I'm leaving you, but I promise you, Ianto, that this is the very last time. The next time you see me I'll be here to stay. Just please…” Jack’s voice cracked with pain and emotion. “Please wait for me," he pleaded fervently as he kissed Ianto on the forehead. ‘Remember that I love you, Cariad; please don’t let someone else steal your heart away.’ One large tear dropped onto Ianto’s pillow and Jack knew that if he didn’t leave immediately, he never would. Taking one last lingering look at Ianto, committing every minute detail to memory, knowing that it would have to do him until Ianto was old enough for him to return, Jack straightened up and stepped away from Ianto’s crib. “Please remember me,” he begged one last time. ‘I will be back, I promise, and I will make you mine, again.’
"I'll see you soon, Ianto Jones." Jack promised as he pressed the buttons on his newly repaired and fully working vortex manipulator and with his eyes locked on Ianto he whispered, “I love you,” and then disappeared from sight.
In his sleep Ianto shifted a faint smile on his face as his forehead still tingled from Jack's kiss. In his dreams, he danced with a man in a big blue coat.
Unbeknownst to either of them, two sets of parental eyes were watching them, filled with tears, both understanding the sacrifice Jack was making to ensure their son could enjoy a normal life and grow up happy and well-adjusted.