Phil Coulson is in a terrible mood. Everyone knows it. Everyone gives him a wide berth, save one.
"Who pissed in your cereal?"
"Drop it, Barton," the handler snaps.
The archer manages to stay quiet for a whole thirty seconds before quietly asking, "Whose birthday?"
Coulson sighs. He knows better to evade this conversation with someone whose personality is as dogged as Clint's. "My father's."
Barton nods. "I understand why you're hiding the fact that you're still alive from them. But if I had a family—a normal one—I wouldn't let anything in the world keep me from them."
The response slams into him and causes a tightening in his chest. He keeps his head down and forces himself to focus on the paperwork on his desk. Barton, having said his piece, stands and leaves. Coulson eyes his phone for the millionth time. It's been ten months since Loki stabbed him, and five since anyone other than Fury knew he was still alive. He was given the option to inform his family, but decided against it. He knows in his line of work he will one day be killed in action. His parents don't need to bury him twice.
He runs an hour a day, and due to meetings, a minor attack, and paperwork, it's one of those times where his run doesn't get to happen until 2am. His feet pound the sidewalk as he draws in cool night air. He knows his thoughts have gotten the better of him when he looks up and realizes just how far uptown he's gone. He pauses for a moment, bent over with his hands on his knees, gives his head a shake in a futile attempt to clear his thoughts, and then turns and begins his run back to the Tower.
He can't do it anymore. He can't lie to those he loves. He needs to see them, to hug them. It's been over a year, before everything that happened with Vanko and New Mexico, since he's seen his relatives face-to-face. His selfishness decides to win out. He needs to see them even if it means it will more than likely bring them pain once more.
He pulls up to the house he grew up in and has to pry his white-knuckled fingers from the steering wheel. He's pretty sure he isn't breathing as he walks up to the front door.
He waits for the door to open. It's his mother. The shock is evident on her face and in her hands as she fumbles to open the screen door separating them.
"Is it really you?" she asks quietly.
He nods. "Hi, Mom."
"I was, for a few of minutes. I had to stay away for a while, and when I came back…" he pauses to shrug. "Parents don't need to bury their own children, and they certainly don't need to do it twice."
She meets his eyes with fierce intent. "You let me be the judge of that."