“He’s alive?” Clint says, studying the file that he has just lifted from SHIELD’s well-protected archives. Everything there is to know about Agent Phil Coulson: the file is only a few pages deep. Coulson is so firmly wrapped in secrets that not even death can pierce through to the truth.
Not even supposed death.
Natasha crosses her arms over her chest and eyes him doubtfully. “He’s alive?” she repeats.
“Says so right here. The son of a bitch is living in Alaska,” Clint says. “Alaska. What the hell is wrong with him?”
How could Coulson have been alive for months without even trying to contact them? Him? Without trying to contact him? He had been mourning him this entire time. They all had.
He is on his feet and striding to the door before he could stop to consider a plan. “Clint,” Natasha interrupts before he can leave. “If he hasn’t contacted us, he must have a reason.”
“Yeah?” Clint snaps. “That’s exactly why I’m going up there. Let’s see if he manages to talk his way out of this one.”
He slams the door behind himself when he leaves, but a split-second later it opens again and Natasha follows him through. She plucks his car keys from his hand. “If you’re really going to do this, you’ll need back-up,” she says, over-taking him on the walk outside. She strides on, her head held high. “Someone has to be around to protect you from him.”
They don’t talk much for the long journey North, spending their time in cars or on planes and ignoring their ringing phones - Fury or Hill are bound to be on the end of the line with angry demands of their whereabouts. Neither one of them is ready to answer those kind of questions. If SHIELD works out what they are up to, then Coulson won’t be there by the time they make it to the address in his file.
They make it out to a small house in suburbia, with a neat garden and drawn curtains. “Seriously?” Clint asks as he climbs out of the car. “Where’s the white picket fence?” Everything else is in place. He tries to imagine Coulson in a place like this, suit and all, but it doesn’t work.
“There’s still time to turn back,” Natasha points out.
Clint scoffs at her. He doubts if she expected anything less.
They walk up the garden path to the door, but no amount of knocking brings an answer. Clint’s heart begins to sink. “Maybe he’s not home,” he suggests. “Or the old man’s taking a nap.”
Natasha doesn’t dignify him with a response. She sinks to her knees and pulls a pin out of her hair. It is the work of a moment to get them inside. Dust covers neat furniture and there is a pile of junk mail on the floor. Unlived in and hollow, this has never been a home.
In the living room, on the coffee table, they find an envelope addressed to Clint in Coulson’s neat, controlled hand-writing.
Clint doesn’t allow Natasha to read the letter it contains.
Some things aren’t to be shared.