Intruder

When Clint saw the tall, elegant man appear like a blink beside the hammer, he thought of the buck he had seen in the woods, many years ago. He had been hunting with a friend, something he did often in those days, though he would never bring home anything, and everyone would tease him about his terrible aim. The deer had slipped quietly into the clearing where Clint had stopped to rest. It had raised its head to look at him with large, dark eyes, and Clint dared not even breathe. Then a twig snapped in the distance, and the buck swiveled his head to look, and then he was gone.

The man reached out his hand and wrapped his long, slender fingers around the handle. The scientists and S.H.I.E.L.D agents paid the man no mind, swerving to avoid him but never noticing what made their steps turn, and Clint wondered why he of all people was witness to this quiet moment. Slowly, he lowered his bow, and he held his breath.

The man gave a few experimental tugs at the hammer, and Clint knew from his own furtive experiments how useless it was, like the hammer had been fused into the bedrock. Now he had both hands on it, pulling and pulling without the barest hint of movement. Clint could see the strain in the man’s long, slender arms, the faint quiver before he released the handle with an angry huff. Clint bit back a smile. He had suspected as much.

The proverbial branch snapped, and the man turned to leave, his jacket swirling dramatically behind him. He looked up, and he caught Clint’s gaze for the briefest moment. Clint realized that he still wasn’t breathing. He saw a wounded buck with bright green eyes, and then the man was gone, no puff of smoke or swirl of light, just gone. If someone asked, Clint couldn’t have said if he’d ever been there at all.

“What are you staring at?”

Clint turned around and saw Natasha, her hand on her hip and one eyebrow raised. “Nothing,” he said. He carefully folded his bow back up. “Did you see the video of that intruder from last night?”

“Yes.” Natasha strolled over and picked up an arrow from the floor and held it out. “He’s not a mercenary, I can say that much.”

Clint glanced back at the spot where the man had stood. “No,” he said, “he’s something else entirely.”

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