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The Hunters and the Prey

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Clint hadn’t been joking when he’d claimed that Phil’s show of magical ability had turned him on.

While he hadn’t been able to see much of what his lover had done, he’d at least been able to sense it a little, and what he’d sensed…damn, that was some impressive magic being thrown around.  He did wish he’d been able to see it like Mistress Pepper had obviously been able to do, because she’d been in awe almost from the moment Phil had raised a hand toward the bed. 

He’d seen what had happened with the Void Point, but then the Void had been so very strong in that cave it would have been noticeable by a headblind null.  The shadows alone had been pretty spooky, and to have seen them move the way they had…plus, the Void had actually been visible there, mainly because they’d been right on top of the Void Point.  It had been the clearest Clint had ever seen it, and amend if it wasn’t amazing.

There was times when he wished he’d been born with more than just a sense of magic, if just to be able to see what Phil could do.

Mistress Pepper had them all out of the bedroom and down the stairs, then situated in a comfortable yet enormous library, two tables covered with finger foods and various drinks, including coffee and tea.  Phil took a small glass of wine and a plate with several different sweet treats on it, settling onto a sofa with Lola at his feet, a haunch of lamb held delicately in her claws as she gnawed on it in satisfaction. 

Clint took the sofa with Phil, after setting his bow and quiver against the end table next to him, not at all hiding the fact that he was scoping the place out.  The sheer number of books was mind-boggling, taking up two levels that included a walkway around the circumference of the round room.  There were even those rolling ladders at various places around the tall shelves. 

There were paintings in niches spaced around the room…except for one place, and it held an ornate mirror.  The archer was willing to bet it was Mistress Pepper’s speaking mirror.  It didn’t hurt that he recognized this room from the call she’d made to Phil, back at Shield Keep.

The coffee he’d accepted from the Steward, Jarvis, was strong…just the way he liked it.  The cake was moist and the candied apples and cranberries were to die for.

Jarvis waited on them efficiently.  He was a tall, gangly man that Clint swore had some Elf in him; it was around the eyes that told the tale, because he had human normal ears.  He was polite and unflappable…or at least he seemed to be, until Baron Tony said something completely inappropriate, and then the Steward had gaped for approximately two heartbeats and then withdrew swiftly. 

Mistress Pepper chastised the Baron for it. Baron Tony rolled his eyes and didn’t argue with her, as if he knew he wouldn’t win.

Clint believed the Baron was just so used to Mistress Pepper winning any argument they got into that he simply didn’t bother anymore.

“Grand Master Phil,” Dr. Banner began the conversation, “can you please explain to those of us who couldn’t see, what exactly you did?”

Clint found himself liking the soft-spoken magical theorist.  He seemed to be a bit tentative and shy, and yet it was obvious he took pride in the knowledge he had.  There was something about him, though, that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but it didn’t make him like the man any less. 

Trust was something else; however, the Elf didn’t really trust a lot of people so it really didn’t say anything bad about the scientist.

“Sir Steven had been within the Void for so long,” Phil began, “that the Void had actually bonded to him…although I’m fairly certain it was also to keep him from being expelled before he could actually survive it.  But, it wasn’t an actual part of him and so it had to come out.  All I needed to do was take the Void away.”

“Easy as pie for the man who closed a Void Point,” Baron Tony added. 

There was a sarcastic tone to his words, but Phil didn’t seem to take offense to it at all.  “I’m not sure about it, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not some sort of walking Void Point right now.”

He looked a little stunned, as if the thought had just occurred to him, and Clint couldn’t help but free up a hand in order to rest it on Phil’s thigh, in a sign of comfort and solidarity.  Suddenly realizing that you’re some sort of walking, talking magical artifact would have freaked anyone out.  Phil, usually so calm and collected, had to have been screaming internally.

“If you are,” Pepper said stoutly, “then Ianto would be a walking Cardinal Point.  Somehow, I’m not so sure that’s how it works.”

“Mistress Pepper would be right,” Dr, Banner spoke up.  “Now, I’m not in any way magical, but I’ve studied these things, and I believe I can safely say that, despite the fact that you managed to take on a Void Point and manipulate it enough so that it could be closed, and that the Void has so strong a connection to you, that it is impossible for you to actually be a Void Point.  As we know, a Void Point is a crack in the universe, where the very Deathforce can seep up into our world.  Cardinal Points are the opposite, yet the same…it’s also a crack in the universe, but it’s where the Deep Ways enter our world.  Now, if you were some sort of animated Void Point, you would be spewing Deathforce all over the place.  And you’re obviously not.  If you were, Mistress Pepper wouldn’t be able to sit here in this room with you.”

As the scientist spoke, Clint could tell that Phil was relaxing a little, digesting what Dr. Banner was saying.  The Elf wanted to thank him for talking sense, but simply listened as he went on with his explanation.

“Also, take into consideration the control you have over your magic.  If this were a situation where you were exuding Void energy constantly, you would be unable to hold that sort of control over it for as long as you have been.  Yes, I know you can close a Void Point, but doing so tires you out.  So, it would have been impossible for you to be doing it all the time.  Grand Master Phil, while I certainly understand why you’d think that, it’s based on emotion and not through sound, magical, theory.”

By the end, Phil was nodding in agreement.  “I know…you’re correct, Dr. Banner.  But…the Void, it recognized me.  It came to me, and I absorbed it.  It was happy that I was there.”

“Whoa,” Baron Tony muttered, “that’s some weird shit.  Are you saying the Void is alive?”

Phil shrugged.  “We know the Deep Ways has its own sentient Avatar.  I’m only surprised that the Void doesn’t have the same.  It’s definitely alive.  I’ve heard its heartbeat.  And it gave me Sir Steven.  That I recall vividly.”

That announcement had everyone staring at Phil in surprise, Clint included.  Sure, he knew about the Avatar of Gateway, but the Elf hadn’t put it together with the notion that both the Deep Ways and the Void were alive. 

And yet, it made sense in a way.  Elves were close to nature, and to life itself.  Each Elf could sense magic, especially both the Deep Ways and the Void, even if that Elf didn’t have magic of their own.   It would explain a lot if both forms of magic were living in some way.

“What exactly happened while you were in the Void Point?” Mistress Pepper prompted quietly, as if afraid Phil might actually tell them.

“It…it was dark, and calm…only the Void in that place had been tainted in some way.  I had to fight it a little, in order to get it back out of our world, because it didn’t want to go.”  Phil took a sip of his wine, his eyes distant, like he was back inside the Void Point.  “The rest of the Void, though…I could hear it, in a way…it’s hard to describe exactly how it was speaking to me, but it wanted me to force the injured part of it back within its own dimension, so it could embrace and heal it.  So I did, and in reward it gave me Sir Steven back.  Not that it wanted him there; the Void had wanted to expel him for a while, now, but hadn’t known how without doing any more damage to him.  I was its way to do so, even though I didn’t want to leave.”

Lola dropped her half-eaten lamb shank, sitting up in order to rest her front claws on her Wizard’s knees, cooing at him sadly.  Phil set his plate and glass down on the table at his side of the couch, in order to reach out to his companion.  He stroked her head with one hand, the other covering the hand that Clint still had on his thigh, squeezing the archer’s fingers in acknowledgement of the very real concern Clint was experiencing.  There had been a very real longing in Phil’s voice, and his eyes had gone a little misty…not with tears, but with Void, the black of the magic ghosting across his irises like the darkest of storm clouds. 

“When I was first resurrected,” he went on, “I believed that the Void had expelled me because I wasn’t worthy.  After everything I’d done, that the Void had rejected me.”

“I thought you didn’t remember,” Clint murmured.

The Wizard gave him a small smile.  “I didn’t…not until my second near-death by Hydra.  Then, it was as if the Void wanted me to remember it, and so I did.”

“And did it?” Mistress Pepper asked, sympathy making her voice ache.

Phil shook his head. “No, not rejection…but it knew I wasn’t ready, and that I still had a part to play.”  He smiled self-deprecatingly.  “It’s not the part I thought it was, though.  I didn’t think the Void simply didn’t want me to die, to take the easy way out.”

“It’s your punishment,” Baron Tony said, sounding completely serious for once.  “For all your evil past deeds.”

“To live long past your time,” Dr. Banner added.  “To be the balance to Grand Master Ianto.”

“Exactly.”  Phil bowed his head a moment, as if ashamed to meet their eyes.

Clint’s heart hurt for the man he loved.  To know that he was being punished like that because some universal force hadn’t liked how he’d lived his life and used his power. 

The thing was, yes…Phil – and Marcus, and the Widow and Clint himself – had done a lot of bad things, there were those times when burning down cities or assassinating people had been the right thing to do.  That, somehow, they’d been elected as the swift hands of justice, doing what needed to be done to protect people who didn’t deserve to be hurt.  Just look at Buda-Pest…they’d gone in there, ready to raze the kingdom down, because King Wolfgang was doing something so vile that normal justice would never have been enough. 

That mission had really done a number on everyone’s reputation, but Clint knew he’d pay it again and gratefully if it meant that even one single child would be saved.  It was quite possibly the one thing Clint had done that he’d never regret, no matter what anyone else said. 

Lola made another sad sound, and this time Happy – who had been given a chicken leg by Jarvis before the Steward had left – caught the atmosphere of melancholy and actually dropped his own dinner and, completely belying his own silly nature, practically flew into Phil’s lap in order to cuddle him.  The Wizard was surprised by it, taking his hand away from Lola in order to cuddle the little dragon right back.

Lola didn’t seem bothered by the attention that another dragon was giving her human.  Instead, she dropped her head to Phil’s knee, sighing deeply and looking up with such poignant eyes. 

“Well,” Baron Tony humphed, “this became a real downer real fast.”

At the same time that Mistress Pepper said, “Tony!” Phil was ordering calmly, “Shut up, Your Grace.”

Clint couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped.  Banner was equally amused, while the Baron simply rolled his eyes and complained about not getting any respect.

Still, Phil was perking up a little, and Lola looked somewhat less distressed.  Happy actually twisted onto his back, displaying his belly for rubs.  The Wizard shook his head fondly and did what the small dragon demanded, running his fingers along the fine scales of Happy’s chest and stomach.  He gave out the dragon form of a giggle, waving his four legs in the air, tail twitching in pleasure.

With that, Phil laughed.  “Pepper, your dragon is ridiculous.”

Pepper joined him.  “You’re just now realizing that?”

Clint reached over and gave Happy, and then Lola, their own scritches.  “He did the job needed, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he did,” his lover admitted. 

“You have a lot of friends, Phil,” Pepper said.  “Yes, even Tony.”

Baron Tony squawked in protest at that.  “I’m nobody’s friend!”

“You protest too much, Your Grace,” Phil said, raising an eyebrow.

“Then maybe you should call me Tony.”  The man smirked.  “Although I’m gonna keep call you Grand Master, because you get this really hilarious look on your face whenever I do.  Your eye twitches…yep, just like that.”

Clint snorted.  He wasn’t about to tell Phil that the Baron was absolutely correct, that Phil’s left eye really did twitch whenever someone called him Grand Master.  Not that many people did at the moment, but it was there and he wasn’t going to admit it for one moment.  Phil had tells, and the Elf wasn’t going to share them.

“Look,” Ferrous’ Baron went on, “we’ll keep the Void Knight here as long as he needs it.  I’m sort of invested, what with the family history and all.  He’s gonna need all the help he can get to reacclimate to this time.”

“I may know someone who can help,” Phil said.  “His name is Andrew Garner, and he was an instructor in the mental health sciences before he accidentally got a hold of a cursed artifact.  If he can’t, then he might know someone who can.”

Phil had said something to that effect about Andrew, back when he’d first talked about Melinda’s cursed husband.  The effects of the curse had been horrific, but Grand Master Ianto had managed to unpick the curse and get Andrew back to his normal self.  This would be just the thing to get the man back out into the world and he would be useful to someone who needed it.

Although, it might mean there would be no more excellent meals. 

Hm.

Maybe not such a good idea after all.

He couldn’t say that out loud, though.  He didn’t want to seem selfish.

Before Phil could say anything else, a small chiming sound came from one of the walls.  It had Clint up from his seat in a flash, a knife in his hand, before realizing that he was in one of the most secure places in the Western Lands, the combination of Mistress Pepper’s magic and the Baron’s genius making it almost impossible to get in unless they let it happen.

He wasn’t embarrassed, though.  It never paid to be too cautious.

“It’s my mirror,” the Head of Cardinal Order said, rising from her chair. 

Baron Tony looked somewhat impressed by Clint, but why the Elf couldn’t say, as he hadn’t really done anything all that impressive yet.  He slid the knife back into its sheath in his boot, surreptitiously nudging his bow a little closer with his boot as he returned to his seat.

Phil gave him a look that absolutely did not make Clint’s cock twitch in his trousers.

Nope, it didn’t.

But it was a damned sexy look.