If there's one person in the world Clint trusts, sometimes even more than himself, it's Nat. Sure, she's a dame, and Russian, and has more than a few screws loose, but she's also family. She's loyal. In the business Clint's in, with the life he leads, loyalty is more valuable than gold or the moonshine they regularly haul around in the back of his Model A.
If there's one other person in the world Clint trusts... Well, five minutes ago he would have said Phil Coulson. But that was before good ole Phil busted into his and Nat's place, flanked by two of Nick Fury's more mountainous goons.
It was a stupid move - trying to pick a fight on their home turf, in easy reach of the various weapons Phil has to know Clint and Nat have stashed all over the place. Stupid, and so much different than Phil's usual scary and efficient M.O.
Clint's pretty sure that discrepancy in Phil's behavior is the only reason Nat hasn't started throwing the knives that Clint can see glinting in her hands.
"Hiya Phil," Clint says, ending the silent stalemate. "If we had known you were gonna come and visit, Nat woulda made tea."
"I would have," Nat agrees. Her accent's heavier than it normally is. She's not happy. That's never a good thing.
"My apologies for the door," Phil says. "Nick demanded that I make a bit of an entrance so the two of you realize how serious we are."
"Serious about what?" Nat asks.
Phil makes some kind of subtle hand gesture, and the two goons vacate the apartment. On his way out, the second goon kindly takes their broken door and sets it so it's leaning on the door frame.
"You've got yourself a real peach there," Clint says. He takes a seat at their rickety kitchen table and uses a booted foot to push a chair out for Phil. Nat takes a perch on the windowsill just behind where Phil has been instructed to sit.
Phil's eyes flicker to Nat then to the chair. There's a moment's hesitation before he takes Clint's unspoken instruction. He sits down, leaving his back wide open to Nat and her knives. Clint feels his shoulders relax just a bit. Whatever this is, whatever's going on, Phil still trusts them.
"Your last three deliveries have been light," Phil says.
Clint frowns. Nat does the same. "How light?" he asks.
"A few jars each time," Phil says. "Nick was willing to overlook the first instance. The second made him a bit annoyed. The third, well..." Phil gestures towards the propped up door. "You have to understand, it's not the monetary value that has Nick so... perturbed. As far as he's concerned, those missing jars are a sign of disrespect."
Clint feels the unease he's been carrying since their door splintered ratchet up a notch. Nat's usually unflappable expression turns down into a scowl.
"Nick feels that if it gets out that his own people are skimming from him, his enemies would see that as a sign of weakness," Phil says. "There are things happening that you are not privy to, and Nick cannot afford to look weak right now."
Clint nods and says, "I get it." Fury, fearsome though he may be, still had people nipping at his heels, wanting to take him out and take over the empire he'd built.
Phil shakes his head. "I don't think you do. He wants me to break your fingers, Clint."
Nat moves like a ghost. One second she's at the window, the next she's standing behind Phil's chair. Phil goes very still. From the angle of Nat's hand, Clint imagines she's got one of her sharp, little blades pressed close to his spine.
"I told him I'd rather speak to you two first, of course," Phil says, calmly and evenly. "I don't want to hurt you. Either of you."
"Good," Nat says. "Because such actions would end badly for you."
"Nat," Clint says, "he gets the idea."
Nat backs off, but she stays close. Clint sees Phil let out a long breath.
"We didn't do it," Clint says simply. "We were framed."
"I suspected as much," Phil says.
"So, how do we get this squared away?" Clint asks.
"There is nothing to square away," Nat says. "We must run."
Clint's not overly surprised by Nat's declaration. Before they'd settled here both she and Clint had done a lot of running. Hell, Nat had run all the way across Europe and the Atlantic. But now Clint's happy where he is. He's settled, not to mention getting a little long in the tooth for starting over again. "We've made a home here, Nat. We're not leaving."
"Yes, we are," Nat says. She moves to his side and takes a firm grasp of his chin, angling his head up so she can peer down into his face. "Clint, I have known men like Fury. He thinks we have wronged him, and he will not be satisfied until he has blood."
Clint starts to scoff, but in his peripheral vision he can't help but catch an odd expression on Phil's face. "Broken fingers?" Clint says.
Phil has the good manners to look a bit shamed. "To start with," he says after a moment.
Nat lets out a low and guttural curse that Clint doesn't understand but gets the meaning of just the same.
"Jesus H. Christ, Phil!" Clint says, throwing up his hands. "I thought we were friends!"
"We are friends," Phil says, "which is why I've brought this to your attention. I could have had you grabbed off the street and dealt with quietly."
Clint has to give him that.
"And Tasha's right; you two can run. Or you can lay low until Fury's had a chance to think things through, listen to what I've been trying to tell him, and realize that offing his best delivery people would be worse for business than letting you live. Or..." Phil folds his hand together and puts them on the table.
Clint waits as long as he's able, which really isn't very long at all. "Or what?"
"There is a third option," Phil says. "I know you and Tasha didn't take anything from the shipments, but someone did. Fury wants restitution from whoever stole from him. Right now, he thinks that's you. We find out who's really skimming and hand that bastard over instead."
"That would be a great solution," Clint says, "if any of us were trained detectives. You wouldn't happen to have a couple of Prohibition Agents in your pocket that might be willing to help out, would you?"
Phil's mouth twitches. "'Fraid not. But it really can't be that difficult. How many people have access to your car after the shipment is loaded?"
Clint and Nat frown at each other. "No one," Clint says. "The Norseman or his people put the 'shine in, make sure it's secure, and then me and Nat high-tail it the hell outta there. The only time we stop is when we switch who's driving, and then it's not more than a minute or two on the side of a road somewhere."
"You don't eat or rest?" Phil asks.
Clint and Nat shrug. "We have our job to do," Nat says.
Phil frowns. "I see. Then that makes things decidedly more difficult."
Clint lets his head thunk down onto the table. "It's someone in the Norseman's organization, isn't it?"
"That would be the most obvious conclusion, yes," Phil says.
"But why," Clint asks. "And who?"
Nat makes a soft, little noise. Her brow is furrowed and her eyes are unfocused. "The son."
"Thor?" Clint doesn't want it to be Thor. He likes Thor.
"No," Nat says, "the other one. The youngest."
"Lucky?" Clint says.
"Loki," Phil says, correcting him. "That's... a serious accusation, Tasha. Why do you think it's him?"
"I have seen him around Clint's car when there was no reason for him to be there," Nat says.
Clint shrugs. "It could just be that the guy likes cars, and my girl's the bee's knees. In fact, last time we were there, Thor said that..." Clint's words trail off as a few distinct pieces of information start to come together in his mind. "That little, double crossing, rat bastard," he says once the picture clears.
"Clint, what did Thor say?" Phil asks.
Clint blinks a few times and focuses on Phil's face. "Thor said that his brother wouldn't shut up about the brand new Model B he was gonna get. Said he was having the engine custom made by Tony Stark himself."
Nat whistles. "That car will be very fast. With a skilled driver, it would be perfect for outrunning agents."
Clint slaps one hand down on the table. "That little so and so's been swiping jars, hoping that Fury will notice and take us out so that he can start making deliveries for his old man himself."
"You can't tell me it doesn't make sense," Clint says.
Phil stays silent long enough for Clint to get twitchy. "I've met Loki a couple of times," Phil finally says, "and each time there was something about him that set my teeth on edge."
Clint feels himself relax just a little bit more. "So you believe me?"
"Of course," Phil says. "And, hopefully, I'll be able to sway Nick to your side as well. However, convincing the Norseman of the actions of his youngest son will be considerably more difficult."
And with that the three of them lapse into a pensive silence, each trying to determine the best way to pull Clint and Natasha's collective fat out of the fryer.
Finally, Phil looks at Clint and says, "I'll tell Nick what we've come up with and see if I can get him to withhold judgment until you do another run. When that happens, we'll send one of our people with you instead of-"
"No!" Nat says sharply. "No one watches Clint's back but me."
"Nat, it's okay," Clint says, reaching out for her.
"No," Nat says again, backing away from Clint's touch. Her eyes are fierce and wild as she stares down at him. "You are my family. The only family I've ever truly had. I will not trust your safety to someone from Fury's organization, not when he has already decreed that you must be punished."
"What if it was me," Phil says softly. "What if I made the run with Clint? You still trust me, don't you?"
Nat's eyes swing from Clint to Phil. Phil, to his credit, doesn't even flinch at the look she gives him.
"Jeez, Phil," Clint says, trying for brevity, "are you even allowed to leave the city."
Phil smirks. "I've always wondered what trees look like."
"If you like them," Clint says, "you're gonna love this stuff called grass. It covers the ground instead of concrete."
"Is that right?"
Nat snorts and says a word in her mother tongue that Clint's pretty sure means 'idiot'.
Clint's heard that particular word a lot over the years, but he's never quite gotten up the gumption to ask for a translation.
"Fine," Nat says, as she sidles over to Clint and lets herself be pulled into a loose hug. "You may accompany Clint on the next run. But, know this, Phillip Coulson, if you trick, or trap, or double cross my brother in any way, I will make sure your end is bloody."
Phil nods, and says quite seriously, "I wouldn't expect anything less."
"All right then, boys," Nat says, clapping her hands together, "let's make a plan."