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The Hunters and the Prey

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The first thing Ianto noticed through Pepper’s mirror were her guests.

Of course, he’d been expecting to find Phil there.  When he’d contacted the mirror at Shield Keep, the Steward – the formidable Melinda May – had informed him that both the Grand Master and the Hawk had left for Barony Ferrous, in order to see about helping the fallen Sir Steven.  Ianto could understand why Pepper would have called him in; after all, it had been Phil who had brought the hibernating Paladin out of the Void, and would have been able to see what exactly was wrong. 

Baron Tony was with them, as was a man with dark, curly hair and a somewhat amused demeanor.  Ianto could swear he’d seen the man before, and it took him a moment to bring the memory forward: that was Doctor Bruce Banner, a magical theorist with several rather scholarly treatises under his belt.  Ianto hadn’t officially met the man, but he’d seen him deliver one of those papers at a symposium on the Laws of Magic, and he’d been impressed by it, especially coming from someone who wasn’t a Wizard.

“Good morning, Ianto,” Pepper greeted him warmly.

“Good afternoon,” he returned, chuckling.  It would have been morning on the west coast of the Western Lands; as it was late afternoon in Gateway.  “I see you have the man I’m looking for with you.”

“Of course you want me,”  the Baron snarked, a sparkle in his dark eye that Ianto could make out even through the mirror.  “Everyone does, so why shouldn’t you?”

“Certainly, it’s you,” Ianto snarked right back, “because the two of us are so compatible.”

That had Tony barking a laugh.  “And the last thing I want is Jack coming after me in a fit of jealousy.”

“Jack doesn’t get jealous…at least, that’s what he says.” 

“And we know he lies about that sort of thing,” Pepper grinned. 

They all knew his husband, alright.  Because that was all so very true.  Jack denies being jealous, but it was so obvious that he was. 

It really was one of the many things Ianto loved about him, not that he was ever going to admit that to Jack.

“Actually,” Ianto got back on track, “I was told by Steward Melinda that Phil was with you…and I see that he is.”

That had Phil getting up off the sofa where he’d been sitting next to Clint Barton, curiosity in his eyes.  “What can I do for you, Grand Master?”

Ianto clicked his tongue at him in disapproval.  “It’s Ianto, Phil.  I’m about as uncomfortable about that title as you are.”

He could see the humor brighten the Void Wizard’s blue eyes.  “Then, Ianto…what can I do for you?”

“I think we should meet, to discuss what’s going to happen next.  I’ve already called Stephen, and he can be here for dinner…which, I suppose, would be a late lunch for you.  I think it’s high time for the Grand Masters to take action on the Hydra menace.”

Phil nodded in agreement.  “That sounds fine.  I’ve done all I can here, and so I’m free for the rest of the day.”

“Excellent.  Please, bring Mr. Barton with you.  We’ll eat before we get into the actual meeting.  Besides,” he couldn’t help the smile, “I have someone who’d like to meet him.”

“Meet me?” The Hawk was surprised, his eyebrows rising. 

“Indeed.  You’d be welcome regardless of that, however.”

Toshiko had wanted to meet this young Elf, to get to know him, since Ianto was pretty certain she was going to invite him to come along with her in her quest to dig around the mercenary underground for information.  That made sense; after all, Clint Barton had been on the wrong side of the law for many years, until he’d chosen to leave that life behind and work for the Baron Triskelia.  While the archer still had his thumbs in some fairly shady pies, he was doing his best to change his life for the better.  Becoming Phil’s lover was yet another positive change.

And his request to Ianto, back at Shield Keep…honestly, Ianto was pleasantly in awe of the Hawk, for what he was willing to do for the man he loved.

“Also,” the Cardinal Wizard continued, “you might wish to be aware that I had a visit earlier from young Novice Daisy and her group of friends.  They are all quite determined to help out.”

The Void Wizard shook his head fondly.  “That’s my girl.”

“You should be very proud of her.”  Ianto had been impressed at how loyal she was to her father.  Pepper had had the right idea taking the young woman on as a Novice; he couldn’t help but wish he’d been the one to do it, although he hadn’t taken a Novice since Pepper herself.  It was why she was so determined that he accept Pietro Maximoff as his next Novice.

“I really am.”  It was obvious in the way his eyes softened when he thought of her, and the tiny smile that graced his lips. 

Ianto had to believe that the very best thing that could have happened to Phil Coulson was finding that girl and deciding to raise her as his own.

“I think she should come to dinner as well,” he spontaneously decided.  “I’m not going to ask that she be included in Grand Master business, but she might feel as if we’re letting her be a part of things. Nor do we need to have all of her friends show up.  However, I suspect that you wouldn’t mind spending time with your daughter while you can, before you get busy and she goes back to her studies.”

Phil was nodding.  “Give us a couple of hours, and we’ll be there.  I want to stop off back at the Keep; I need to speak to Andrew about something, and I’ll call Daisy on her speaking stone.  Then, if Clint wants to accompany me – “

“I do,” Clint piped up from where he was still sitting.

“—we’ll be there,” the newest Grand Master finished.

Ianto returned the nod.  “We’ll be expecting you.”

“Should we bring anything?”

“Just yourselves.  Jack has realized that he has a real talent for cooking, and wants to amaze everyone.”  It was nice of the man to ask, however.

“We shall see you in two hours.” 

“See you then.”  Ianto turned his attention back to Pepper, as Phil went back to the sofa.  “Please, let me know when Sir Steven awakens.  I’m very curious as to what he has to say.”

“We were wondering if Jack might want to be there,” she said, “since he remembers the Paladin.  I’m not sure if Sir Steven will remember Jack…”

“But it might be nice to have a friendly face there, if he does.” Ianto could understand that reasoning.  “I’ll ask Jack if he’s willing.”  He didn’t think Jack wouldn’t be, but he’d ask. 

“Phil also says he has someone he can ask who might help Sir Steven reacclimatize.”

That would have been Andrew.  Ianto had gotten to know the man a little when he’d undone the curse that he’d accidentally triggered, turning Andrew Garner into a beast that had hidden his true self.  The Wizard had discovered that Andrew had been an instructor at a university, where he’d taught the mental sciences.  If anyone could help Sir Steven, it would be Andrew…unless he didn’t feel capable of it, and Ianto didn’t doubt that Andrew would be able to give some sort of referral, even though he’d been a hermit for years.

Honestly, Ianto had been impressed with the man, and that was before the curse was lifted.  Andrew had been awkward and uncertain, but he’d carried that curse the best he could. 

“Even if this isn’t the near-mythical Paladin of the Western Lands,” and Ianto didn’t really doubt the man’s identity, but stranger things had certainly happened, “he needs to get the best help we can offer.”

“He does.”  Pepper had that look on her face that Ianto knew meant that she was taking on this man as a personal ‘project’.  He’d recently seen that same expression when she’d started making hints about Ianto taking on a Novice…so she was now dedicated to doing whatever she could to help.

Ianto said he goodbyes, then deactivated the mirror, stepping away from the plain, silver frame.  He sighed, not able to stop the tiny smile from curling his lips.  The day he’d taken Pepper as a Novice was one he would never regret.  She was almost like a daughter to him, and only meant the best for him.  She just didn’t quite understand that Ianto would lose her and every other Novice he’d take on in his long life, and a part of him didn’t want to face that pain.  He’d already lost his sister, niece and nephew; he did have grand-nieces and nephews out there, but they simply weren’t all that close.  And it hadn’t been Ianto’s decision for that to happen.

Not that he didn’t blame them. It was hard for them to grow older, and for Ianto to stay the same.  At least, Eirlys was managing to keep her own children close to their grandparents.

It hadn’t even been quite a hundred years yet, and the Wizard could completely sympathize with his husband, who’d been losing people for over a thousand.

“Sounds like Pepper has things well in hand,” Jack’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

Ianto turned, the tiny smile morphing into one that reached his eyes.  “And you doubted?” he teased lightly.

“Oh, hells no,” Jack denied.  “That woman is as formidable as our Toshiko.”

This was quite true.  Once Pepper put her mind to something, it was a done deal.  Which meant that he’d better be making arrangements for Pietro Maximoff to become his Novice.

Really, Ianto should have known better.  This was Pepper Potts he was thinking of.  If she hadn’t been one of the more powerful Cardinal Wizards in the world, Ianto had no doubt that she could have been anything she wanted.  The Order was damned lucky to have her.

“I suppose it’s a good thing I got that roast at the market yesterday,” Jack went on.  “It’s large enough for at least ten.”

“And we’re only having seven,” Ianto teased right back.

“This thing keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

“Do we have enough pies?”  Jack could certainly cook, but he could bake like a dream, especially pies and cakes.

Jack rolled his eyes.  “Do you doubt?” he snarked, tossing Ianto’s words right back at him.

That had the Wizard laughing.  “Never.”  He stepped forward, pressing a kiss to Jack’s lips.

Jack took the opportunity presented to deepen it.  Ianto could taste the Deep Ways on his husband’s tongue as it tangled around his own, making his own magic spark in response.  Jack might not have been a Wizard, but he was still a magical being, the Deathless, made immortal by such an enormous infusion of the Deep Ways that it was nearly an unlimited supply.  One day, it would run out, and on that day Ianto would sever his own connection to it, letting himself follow the man he loved beyond reason into death.

Even as Jack was doing his best to distract him, Ianto was making a mental note to, someday, let Phil know how to do that himself.  He had no doubt that his Void Wizard counterpart would want to do that very thing one day, when it became too difficult for him to go on.

With a regretful sigh, Ianto pulled away, shifting slightly to make his trousers just a little more comfortable.  “I have a lot to do before everyone starts to arrive…”

Jack’s smirk made him want to kiss it off…and then get down on his knees in order to lavish attention on another part of his husband’s anatomy.  “We have plenty of time.  I don’t have to put the vegetables in to cook until about half an hour before everyone begins to arrive.”

Alright, he had a point.

Ianto gave Jack a smirk of his own, grabbed the other man’s hand, and pulled him toward the bedroom, Jack laughing the entire way.