Coulson finds him on the roof of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base set up in the outskirts of Malibu.
They'd set up recently there due to the proximity to Stark's operations and it had made sense to be close by now that his technology was being used to build a transportable base for them. But the building is stuffy and so temporary that it doesn't even have the limited homliness of a S.H.I.E.L.D base that in a strange way they've all grown used it. It's by far the worst of the temporary offices they've ever set up and nothing they seem to install seems to improve that. It doesn't help that most of it is underground. Coulson knows that Clint Barton despises the place, and that there are very few reasons that he tolerates this location without kicking off.
When he finds him on the roof that evening, gripping the bar around the edge of the rooftop so hard that it looks like it's bending under his hands, Coulson knows that he'll be kicking off any hour now.
"Agent Barton," he stated, standing up beside him to watch the sun setting over the buildings.
Clint didn't look up from where he was staring at his hands. "Sir."
"You failed to turn up for your mission briefing."
That wasn't the real issue here, they both knew that.
"She's gone, Coulson."
"It was her mission. She went where she was instructed to go," he stated, reminding him of the same protocol that they'd been through on countless missions. "She'll be back when the jobs done, just like you."
That was the real issue; the job.
"I asked her to marry me," he said, so quietly that it was barely heard.
Coulson turned his head ever so slightly, but Clint did nothing but shrug his shoulders.
"I don't even know why," he continued. "I mean, I would. I've wanted to marry her for a long time, probably longer than I should have done. I mean, she's Tasha. Why wouldn't I want to? We're already each others family."
He seemed to be rambling, so Coulson put his hands on the railings to mimic him and stared directly at him, tucking the folder he was holding under one arm. "You thought she'd pick you over the job."
He nodded slowly. "And I was so stupid to think that would be enough."
"I assume since you're here alone…"
"She said no," he said, spitting the words out as if they were a venom, before repeating them softly. "She said no. Of course she did. She couldn't. She told me I was just saying it because I didn't want her to go, and that S.H.I.E.L.D policy wouldn't allow us to be married so we'd have to leave…I think she figured out what I was really asking her."
Coulson knows they're not supposed to be together. He overlooks it because they're a good team and their relationship actually makes them stronger. He concealed the fact that being separated on missions didn't destroy the pair, because he was their handler and it was what he did.
"If anything happens to her…"
Because last time they were separated, Natasha almost died and spent a week in a coma. Coulson arranged for Clint to be snuck into the infirmary every night to sit at her side.
"She's good at what she does, Barton. You've never doubted her before."
"I never waited a week to see if she'd wake up before," he mumbled.
"She'll be back. I didn't give her permission not to."
"But you let Fury send her into a warzone," Clint shot back. "You're her handler, our handler, you could have stopped this."
Coulson shook his head. "Director Fury asked for the best man for the job."
"Did it have to be her?" he asked painfully.
"You know it did."
Clint dropped his head into his hands, leaning his elbows on the railing. "She's going to die out there, Coulson."
"She'll be back in two weeks. A week, knowing her work."
Clint said nothing, but was clearly holding back words.
"You're a good team. Why is this suddenly an issue?" Coulson asked.
"Because," he said simply.
"That's not an answer."
"Because I love her," he mumbled. "Because I'm sick of waiting to answer to phone to hear that she's…gone." He groaned at himself and then turned looking Coulson in the eye. "You were with her last time, you didn't know what it was like. You'll never know what it was like for me to get the phone calls. The first one from you, saying that she was in the infirmary and to get back as soon as possible. The second one an hour later from Stark and he told me that something had gone wrong and that she wasn't breathing. Then Pepper apologising because no one had wanted me to know that. Then Banner telling me that she was in a coma. Then you again saying that she wasn't awake yet. You'll never know what it's like to wait for those phone calls. Because one day that phone will ring and you'll tell me that she's dead."
"S.H.I.E.L.D doesn't deal in love," Coulson told him simply.
"But it should accept that it exists. We've spent ninety percent of the last seven years right beside each other. It was inevitable, really. And she's going to the most dangerous place in the world she could possibly go, and she's going out of duty. What about us? When does duty come before family?"
"The job is what she knows," Coulson told him.
"She knows me!" he shot back.
"But she's still an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, as are you. She had her orders and she followed them."
"But she's mine!" he shouted.
Coulson didn't answer, and the shout echoed into the air around them.
Clint made a strangled noise in the back of his throat and hung his head so quickly it was as if Natasha was there, smacking the back of his head for hearing him talk about her like a possession. "She's mine," he reapeated, more upset than angry. "And this job just keeps taking her away from me every single time. I can't do this anymore."
"She'll come back."
"So you say," he sighed, turning back to the sun and finding that it had now completely set beneath the horizon. "I would have married her," he insisted.
"You will," Coulson nodded. Clint eyed him cautiously and Coulson retaliated by handing Clint the folder. "Take a look."
Clint opened up the folder and looked at the top page…then the second…then the third, then he closed the folder and took a shuddering breath. Then he went back to the first page again. "God, Tasha," he sighed, with a noise that was halfway between a laugh and a sob.
"Termination requests," Coulson explained. "Your signature was forged by her, of course, but she wanted it to be a surprise, said you'd find it romantic." Clint made that same noise again. "This is her last mission. When she returns, you'll remain Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D until August 1st, and then you're both free to go. You'll be reissued your original passports under your true indentities, you'll receive the full S.H.I.E.L.D pension and reimbursement for all vacation time you've never taken, and a start up accomodation in the location of your choice."
Clint ran a hand through his hair. "I had no idea."
"That was the plan."
He smiled. "I feel stupid now, for making a fuss."
Coulson gave something of a shrug. "At least we know you deserve her now." Clint went to hand him back the folder, but he shook his head. "They're copies. Originals have already been filed with human resources. Keep it as your proof that she's coming home."
Clint nodded and things were silent between them for a long time, a mutual respect between an agent and the handler that was proving for the final time that he had their backs. "Sir-"
"If you say 'thank you', I'll take the paperwork and tear it up," he warned.
Clint laughed softly and shook his head. "I was going to say, I hear Paris is nice this time of year."
"Don't be ridiculous, Barton," Coulson told him. "You don't speak French."