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On the Level

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When Phil is rudely pulled out of what had been a very nice dream, he doesn't know what he finds more disconcerting: the sharp press of a stiletto against his neck, or that the deadly, vivacious bootlegger currently straddling his hips isn't the one he was just unconsciously cavorting with.



The dim light filtering in from the city does little to illuminate Natasha's features, though the gleam of her teeth and the mad spark in her eyes is quite plain to see.

"I expected you sooner," he says, forcing himself to remain completely still. If Natasha really wanted to kill him, she'd have done it already. But that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to come out of this encounter unscathed.

"Yes, well, Clint wanted me to accompany him to get his new glad rags."

"Ah." Phil can't help but smile. "How did he look?"

"Very dashing," Natasha says. "Very handsome."

Of course. How else would he look? Phil certainly hopes he's going to live long enough to see that. "Good."

"Then, when we finally got back, he kept me up half the night with his incessant chattering."

"It's hard to picture Clint as a chatterbox."

"You don't know him like I do," Natasha says softly.

"No. I'd like to, though." It takes a concentrated effort to not wince as her blade slides into his skin. It's a shallow cut, not enough to do any damage, but it's certainly going to sting for a bit. "I'm not going to hurt him, Tasha," Phil says calmly.

"Hmmm." She makes another slice, an inch or so away from the first one. She's staying away from any major veins or arteries, though, and Phil takes that as a good sign.

"I'm not going to hurt you either."

Natasha snorts. "I'd like to see you try." She makes a third cut.

Phil can feel his blood sliding down his skin, and he decides to aim for the heart. "I'm also not going to take him away from you."

That must hit a nerve. With one graceful move Natasha is off of Phil and half way across his room. He slowly sits up as she begins opening the drawers of his dresser. Phil turns on the lamp on his nightstand, and watches as she roots through his things.

Natasha certainly looks the part of someone bent on murder or mayhem. She's dressed all in black, from the knit cap hiding her coppery curls, to the obviously tailored trousers, to the soft-soled but sturdy shoes on her feet.

Phil wonders how she got into his bedroom, and if any of his bodyguards are still breathing. Natasha' knife seems to be clean, save for the bit of his own blood on the tip. He's hopeful that Sitwell and the others are relatively unharmed.

"If you tell me what you're looking for, I could-" Phil's offer is cut off by a sharp look Natasha throws over her shoulder. He holds up his hands, and stays silent.

After two more drawers, Natasha makes a small sound of satisfaction. Her hand emerges with one of Phil's freshly laundered handkerchiefs, and she begins to use it to clean her knife. Phil holds out his hand. Her eyes flick towards him, and after another few wipes of the blade, she flings the material in his direction. It lands on the lower part of his bed, and Phil reaches for it, keeping his eyes on her the entire time.

"So," she says, her knife now secreted away and her hands on her hips, "tell me then, where exactly do you see me fitting in in this nifty future where you've convinced Clint to be your kept boy?"

Phil presses the already bloodied handkerchief to his throat. "First of all, I'm not going to convince Clint to be anything."

Natasha makes a harsh sound. "You're already paying for his clothing. I assume you're going to be the one paying for the meal you're taking him to. How long will it be before you provide everything for him, hmm? Will you move him in here, or do you have a second apartment, specifically for your conquests?"

"Tasha..." Phil sighs. "Considering the life he's led, I don't see anything wrong with wanting to take care of him. Spoil him, even. If he'll let me. We both know he's no pushover."

"He has his pride." She lifts her chin. "You may not find him as easy to break down as you might hope."

Phil tries to keep a hold on the sudden irritation that rises in him, but some slips out. "Could you please stop trying to paint me as the villain of this piece? I'm not interested in breaking him, Natasha. Good lord. I like Clint just as he is. Prideful, and stubborn, and bold. Smart, and loyal, and sweet." He shakes his head. "There was a time not so long ago that you trusted me."

"With our lives. Not with his heart." She crosses her arms over her chest and glares at him. It would probably be quite frightening if Phil hadn't been dealing with glares from intimidating people for decades.

"I do want him to move in with me, eventually," Phil says slowly. "But not here. This apartment is a bit small for three people." It's a lie, of course. But it's one Phil is willing to tell if Natasha can accept the spirit of it.

Natasha blinks and her face softens for an instant. "Three people?"

"Yes," Phil says. "But, perhaps you'd like your own place, adjacent to ours, of course. Walls can be knocked down. Doors can be installed."

Natasha's quiet for a moment. "My own room would suffice. As long as the walls are thick."

"All right," Phil says easily.

She stares at him, but there's no more animosity there. "This isn't just you carrying a torch, or wanting to be Clint's daddy, is it? You honestly do care for him, don't you?"

"Yes. Deeply."

"And you know what I'll do to you, if you ever hurt him?"

The corners of Phil's lips quirk up. "I have a pretty good idea."

"No, you don't," Natasha says. "You see me, my weapons, and you think you know what I am capable of. You'd be wrong."

Phil swallows. "Then tell me."

Natasha nods her head once. "If you raise one hand to Clint, do one thing to his body that he does not wish to happen, or belittle him in any way, I will take him from you. We will go far, far away. And you will spend the rest of however many days you might have left in regret and fear, wondering when I will come back for you."

There's a chill across Phil's skin that has little to do with his state of undress. "I understand."

"Good." She leans back against the dresser. "I suppose," she says after a moment, "it would be nice to have someone else around to keep Clint corralled during his more exuberant moments. And to help talk him out of some of his more foolhardy exploits." She shrugs. "Very well, you may court him."

Phil exhales a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Thank you, Tasha," he says. "If you'd like to hand me my dressing gown, we could perhaps have a drink before you head back to Clint. We could talk some more."

Natasha stares at him. It's a much less unnerving experience than it was a moment ago. "I appreciate the offer, but I can't stay. There's somebody else I have to visit before dawn, and his security is a tad tougher than yours." She moves towards the window.

"Ah." Phil expected as much. "Are you going to kill him?"

Natasha pauses and turns back to him. "Do you want me to? Would you like to stage a coup, Phillip?"

Phil grimaces. "Not at this moment, no."

"All right," Natasha says. "In that case I'm just going to make sure that he knows that kidnapping and humiliating your allies, regardless of the reasoning, is never a wise decision." She opens the window, puts one foot on the sill, then pauses. "The offer stands, though."

"I'll keep that in mind," Phil says. "Good luck."

Natasha snorts. "Like I need that." Then she's gone.

Phil thinks about his apartment's position on the twelfth floor of a new highrise, and, not for the first time, he's quite glad that Natasha's on his side.