"Hey! Whatcha lookin' at down here?"
Clint jumped. He had been staring out the ... window probably wasn't right. Porthole? Viewscreen? Anyway, looking at space, watching the stars pass, when Peter Quill dropped out of a hatch over his head that he hadn't even realized was there and thumped to the deck beside him.
It was hard not to think of Peter as a kid, even though there couldn't have been more than about a decade or so between them. But Peter's enthusiastic golden-retriever exuberance made Clint feel about a million years old, especially at times like now, when he'd been mesmerized by the vast gulf of blackness around him and mostly thinking about how someone like him (nothing special, no superserum, not even any fancy armor, just a damn spook, and a retired one at that) didn't belong out here.
He was in space. On a spaceship.
"Stars," he answered dryly.
"Yeah, I figured that part out." Peter glanced out the window without a lot of interest. "There's not much else to look at in this part of the cosmos, but we're not quite to the next jump point yet. Oh, hey! If you really want to see something, we should take you by the --" and he said something odd, a quick garbled clicking.
Peter looked briefly baffled. "Didn't that translate? Uh ... it's Chthonian, these cheap translators don't always have all the languages from the Outer Arms ..." He did something behind his ear. "Center of the Cat's Eye. Did you get that?"
"I think so," Clint said, frowning, because now he was wondering what language they were actually speaking, especially what the more unusual members of Peter's crew sounded like.
"Sweet." Peter touched something on the wall. "Hey, Rocket, when we hit the jump point, jump us to Cat's Eye, would you?"
"Why?" came the cantankerous response. "That's three jumps out of our way."
"Yeah, but I want to show the new folks."
"Fuckin' tourists," the mutter came from the wall.
Clint cleared his throat. "Er, just so I'm clear, Rocket is the ra --"
Peter's hand shot out and clapped over Clint's mouth until he had tapped off the intercom. "Don't call him a raccoon. At least not if you want to leave the ship with all the fingers and toes you came onboard with. And he's got ears like a bat."
"You know," Clint said, more than a little disgruntled, "I thought you were hanging around upstairs with the women and the ... er ... tree."
"Yeah, well, Gamora and your redheaded friend were showing each other some high-kick moves, and then the knives came out, and I decided it would be a good time to get out of Dodge." Peter leaned a casual shoulder against the wall. "Anyway, I wanted to find you and ask if you have any cool powers. I've asked everybody else, but I haven't asked you yet."
"Yeah, I've met a few people from Earth out here, and most of them have powers. One time I met a lady who could punch through an asteroid. That was seriously cool. What do you do on your team?"
And didn't that just strike right to the heart of his current bout of nerves about the coming fight. Clint snorted. "I shoot arrows, mostly."
He was unprepared for the look on Peter's face, a quick flash of open, wounded hurt, before it was hidden behind a grin laced with traces of melancholy. In spite of that, Peter looked interested. "How do you do it? Do you have implants?"
Implanted what, was the question, and a question he decided not to ask. "With a bow, the old-fashioned way."
With that, Clint unslung the bow from his shoulder. It was the nifty little collapsible model Stark had helped him develop, and when he extended it to its full length, a bright look of wonder and delight spread across Peter's face. Like most people, he hadn't realized what it was, and it appeared he hadn't recognized the high-tech Stark-make quiver for what it was, either.
"Oh, cool." Peter held out a hand, eyebrows raised like a question mark, and Clint passed it over to him. "Wow. I've heard about these, but never seen one. I didn't know Earth had them. Are they common weapons there?"
"Not anymore." Clint reached over his shoulder for the quiver, fingers moving swiftly across the top and selecting a shaft with the ease of practice. The thought occurred to him, as he did so, that the fact he'd spent so many hours practicing with the new tech probably put the lie to his insistence to Laura that he was really home for good at the farm this time, really, no more trips overseas, no more working with SHIELD ...
Apparently being offered a trip to outer space had been his Achilles heel.
"Here." He handed Peter the arrow. Peter took it with more reverence than Clint really thought it deserved, almost like he was having a religious experience. Clint showed him how to fit it to the bow. "This one's magnetic. Just shoot in the general direction of whatever you want to hit, as long as it's metal."
"Not hard. We're on a spaceship." Peter grinned his pirate grin, but still he hesitated, something stilling his hand before he released the string. The arrow plunked into the opposite wall and stuck there, quivering.
Peter had a point, the magnetic arrow couldn't exactly fail to hit something when there was metal all around them, but it was more than that: Peter was a natural at this. Clint could tell. No more than they'd seen of him so far, Clint had picked up on the fact that the self-proclaimed Star-Lord had a skill set encompassing a wide variety of weapons and (in Clint's all-too-expert opinion) sleight-of-hand and pickpocketing skills as well. It wasn't surprising that he could apply those skills to using the bow. He had the hand-to-eye coordination for it, and the heart for it. Peter, Clint thought, could be really good at this.
Right now Peter was holding out a hand to empty air. He frowned in puzzlement, and then before Clint could ask what he was doing, walked over and gave the arrow a hard tug to retrieve it from the wall. Aha. Peter must think it came back automatically. Well, that wasn't a surprise when you were used to dealing with crazy-advanced outer space tech.
"Wanna try another?" Clint asked, reaching back for his quiver. It was a pleasure to work with a talented student.
Peter hesitated, then shook his head and handed the bow and arrow back. "Nah. I don't think it's my weapon."
The way he said it was ... Clint could almost get a read on it, but he couldn't suss out the pain underlying the words. He didn't have a chance to ask, not that he would have, because just then a shudder passed through his midsection, and Peter's quick grin flared as he reached out to steady himself on the wall.
"We're jumping," he said. "Hang onto something."
Oh God. This again. Clint was settling the bow into its accustomed place on his back, and therefore he wasn't holding onto anything when reality warped, settled, warped again. He ended up sitting ingloriously on the floor when the ship and the stars outside the window steadied around them.
"Don't worry about it," Peter said cheerfully, offering him a hand up. "First time I went through a shipboard jump, I puked all over the guy who was holding onto me. Who was a space pirate, by the way, so you can guess how that went down. It gets easier." He guided Clint's fingers to a handle built into the wall. "There's going to be one more jump before Cat's Eye, so hang on and you'll be fine."
Peter was right, it was easier this time, like taking a punch when you were braced rather than catching a fist in the stomach unawares. The quick shiver through reality faded away with a humming series of tiny aftershocks and Clint instinctively glanced at the window.
And did a double take.
"Cat's Eye," Peter murmured.
Clint was speechless. He'd expected all of outer space to look like the part they'd passed through, a great gulf of blackness littered with stars, like a rural sky at night. But the window, viewport, what-the-heck-ever was full of light, great curtains of shifting and shimmering light, rolling around them in shafts and rippling sheets. It was like being inside an aurora.
He stared, mesmerized, only vaguely aware of the ship's deck shuddering under him and Peter on the intercom: "Hey, Rocket, little bit close, aren't we?"
"You said the tourists wanted to see the show," came back the sharp, somewhat snide tones from above.
"I didn't mean fly us all into the freaking middle of it! Christ!"
"Be more specific next time!"
The bickering rolled off Clint. He was captivated, watching the colors wheel past them as the ship made a slow, ponderous turn, fingers white-knuckled on the handle built into the wall. The shuddering of the deck eased, and the ship straightened out, gliding alongside the great roiling well of light and color.
"Yeah," Peter said softly, looking out at it past Clint's shoulder. "That's about what I looked like the first time my old man showed me that thing, too."