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The Hunters and the Prey

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Clint crouched upon one of the warehouse’s beams, arrow trained unerringly on the crouched form of the Winter Knight.

Toshiko had taken up position on another beam, her own bow drawn as Jack talked to the hidden knight, and together they had him thoroughly covered.  It had been his idea that the pair of them take up position on the thick wooden beams; Jack had agreed that it was a really good plan, and had commented that it would also put them out of reach of that magical arm.  Clint had already faced the guy once in a fight, and agreed that not being anywhere near that arm was a really good idea.

Jack had said he’d go into the warehouse himself in order to try and talk the man down; Toshiko had resisted that, practically yelling at him that, if he got killed, Ianto would kick both their asses.  It had taken Clint just a moment of boggling at that to recall that Jack was the Deathless, and that he’d come back, but he could certainly understand why Jack’s friends wouldn’t want him to actually die. 

Clint had seen Phil die…or come as close to it as he could.  It wasn’t a pleasant feeling to have, knowing that someone you loved had died, even if they were functionally immortal and will come back eventually.  The archer could definitely get behind his Elven counterpart not being pleased with Jack’s plan.

He’d still walked right into that warehouse though.  And had put his damned sword away.  Which was incredibly stupid even for someone who’d resurrect if he was killed.

He didn’t want to be anywhere near the fit Tosh was going to pitch when this was all over.  It was most likely going to be epic.  And Clint had no doubt that she’d be informing Ianto about it, as well.

Still, it had worked.  Jack was bound to point that out during whatever argument they were going to have.  Not that Clint expected that to work all that well.  He might have only known Jack and Ianto a few days, and Toshiko a few hours, but he could already tell what Jack’s dying meant to both of them, along with him risking his life.

At Jack’s shout to come on down, Clint was up on his feet and, looping his bow over the quiver at his back, walking quickly across the beam, his Elven agility coupled with the time he’d walked the wire in the traveling show making his steps sure as he reached the end of the buttress.  He moved along the connecting structure to an area that was easily climbed down; he did so, followed by Toshiko, her own feet and hands almost as sure as Clint’s were on the open beams.

By the time the pair had rejoined Jack, the Winter Knight had showed himself, minus the long knife that Clint had seen glittering in the gloom of the warehouse.  A quick glance found the handle tucked into the man’s right boot, within easy reach if needed.

The Winter Knight had been a legend for as long as Clint could recall.  His history went back centuries, which he’d totally discounted until Ianto had shared with them the existence of that Zero Cabinet thing, back at the house before they’d left.  It would be just like Hydra to keep the guy in that thing, pulling him out when he was needed.  It was a fucking terrible way to exist, and the archer hoped they’d be able to help whoever this was recover from what had to have been a form of magical torture.

No one deserved what had been done to him.  It was just one more red blotch in Hydra’s ledger.

He really got a good look at the legendary assassin this time, since the Knight wasn’t busily trying to kill him.  He was taller than Clint, well-muscled but not bulky, poised on the balls of his feet as if ready to explode into action.  Lank, dark hair fell over the pale forehead, and pale eyes were taking in all three of them, assessing their level of threat to him.  He wasn’t wearing the black padded leather armor anymore; he’d found a dark red tunic and black trousers from somewhere, as well as a dark blue cloak that certainly looked warm enough. 

The metal part of the arm not hidden under the tunic sleeve glittered in the overhead lighting.  It just looked damned menacing, and that was without the aura of magic it carried.

Clint, though, had to do a bit of a double-take when he glanced in Jack’s direction.

The immortal’s mouth was hanging open in sheer shock, his eyes wide as he stared at the Winter Knight like he was seeing a ghost.  His face was a little pale, and Jack took a single step forward before stumbling to a stop.

“Sir James?” his gasped, his voice soft in his surprise.


“Jack?” Toshiko asked, her own voice equally soft, although her tone was pitched that way as if she was trying to keep her friend from panicking.  “What is it?”

The Winter Knight was frowning, practically glaring in his confusion.  “Who?”  His voice caught, and Clint got the distinct impression that the man hadn’t really spoken in a long time.

“Oh course,” the Deathless murmured, “you don’t remember.”

“I don’t…” he was shaking his head.  “You know me?”

“I do.”  Jack moved forward again, practically right up into the Winter Knight’s personal space.  Toshiko had her bow out, an arrow on the string, ready for anything the assassin may do with that sort of crowding.

The Winter Knight, however, stood his ground, watching Jack with…was that hope in those almost fathomless eyes?  Surprise?  Confusion, certainly.  But hope?

Clint could understand that, though.  If what everyone was assuming about the Winter Knight was true, that he’d been under some sort of magical control, then Hydra could have very well wiped his memory of any past life he’d had.  Although, for as long as the Winter Knight had been around, the magical control would have been going on for a lot longer than magic actually returning.  Which most likely meant some sort of artifact.

It occurred to the archer that Ianto might not have checked that Zero Cabinet quite as closely as he might have, because Clint had to seriously wonder if it wasn’t that damned box also messing with this guy’s head while he was in that stasis between missions.

He’d mention it…at some point.

Right now, Jack was regarding the man closely.  “I knew you.  You were Sir James Barnes, boon companion to Sir Steven Rogers, the Paladin of the Western Lands.”

Holy shit.

Toshiko’s eyes widened at Jack’s announcement, and Clint was positive his was doing the same.  “You mean to say,” the archer gasped, “that Hydra’s had the Gods’ damned best friend of the Paladin under their control for centuries and no one realized it?”

Jack had mentioned that he’d been in the army when Sir Steven had had his own group of commandos…and one of those had been James Barnes, Sir Steven’s brother-in-arms.  Hells, Phil had talked about it himself, explaining that Sir James had been lost in a chasm over a frozen river just before Sir Steven had confronted the Skull and had been lost. 

And they had Sir Steven now, back from the Void.

Was this just some sort of horrible coincidence, or was something else going on?  That Hydra had had Sir James Barnes…and then Sir Steven had come through the Void Point at the Hydra house.  Had Hydra known all along where Sir Steven was? 

They might never know, unless one of the Hydra Wizards would talk.

Or if Sir James remembered anything about his captivity.

“Will you…”  the Winter Knight swallowed.  “Will you tell me?”

“I’ll be glad to.”  Jack rested a hand on the man’s flesh shoulder.  “But I think we need to make sure all the magic that’s been affecting you is gone first.  And I know just the people who can help with that.”

He was obviously thinking of the Grand Masters…most likely, of Ianto, because what that Wizard could do with spells was phenomenal.  He’d seen the results with Andrew, who’d been cursed by accident.  Ianto had come in, unpicked the curse, and Andrew had changed back from the monstrous form he’d gained and to his normal, human, body.  It had been spectacular, and from what Clint understood he was the only Wizard who could do such things.  And it didn’t matter what sort of magic it was: Cardinal, Void, or Great. 

The whispers were that Ianto Jones was the most powerful Wizard in the world.  Clint believed it.

Although, he was pretty sure Phil was coming close.

And no, it wasn’t because he was biased.

Even Ianto had admitted that he couldn’t control Cardinal Points, not like Phil could with Void Points.  That was something unique to Phil Coulson, and from what any of the Grand Masters could tell should have been impossible. 

Phil was impossible.  Clint loved that idea.

“Are they Wizards?” the Winter Knight sounded uncertain.

“They are,” Jack confirmed, “but you can trust them.”

That had Clint stepping forward.  “One of them is the Wizards that Hydra tried to kill.  Phil Coulson.”

The man now known as Sir James Barnes nodded slowly.  “They thought they killed him, but they didn’t.  He was…he was the one who cut off the magic that was suffocating my mind.”

“That’s him.” Clint didn’t go into detail; he figured now wasn’t the time.

“They were furious when he escaped.”  A small smirk decorated lips that, chances were, hadn’t had a reason to smirk for a very long time.

Clint returned it.  “That’s awesome.” 

“We should get out of there,” Toshiko said.  She’d put her arrow away, but she was still holding the bow in her hand.  “I don’t think Hydra knows, or if they did they could even do anything right now…”

“We can’t take the risk,” Jack concluded.  “If we found Sir James…”

He had a point.  Clint suddenly felt as if time was of the essence.  “We should leave.”

“You’ll need a way to keep me confined,” the Winter Knight said, “I won’t risk hurting anyone until we’re sure anything that Hydra’s done to me is gone.”

“We’ll take care of it,” the immortal promised.  “We’ll do our best to keep you from doing any sort of damage.”

Sir James’ shoulders slumped.  “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”  Jack gave him a winning smile.  “Now, let’s get the hells out of here.  Once we’re back at Gateway, I’ll feel better.”

Clint couldn’t disagree.