The quinjet flew over the hills of Pennsylvania, crossing over Amish country. More careful than usual, Natasha banked gently, making a smooth descent. Behind them, the metal gurney was strapped down tightly, machines blinking green as they kept Carol Danvers in her induced coma.
"Wasn't Harvey supposed to fly Carol up here?" Clint sat in the co-pilot seat, foot propped on the dashboard, watching Natasha finesse the controls. "And I doubt you got permission for me to tag along."
"I gave him third row tickets to The Book of Mormon for his anniversary next week." She kept her focus on their approach to the facility below, circling towards the landing pad. "His wife will love the show. And you know perfectly well visitors are allowed on the jets if they are under supervision of official personnel."
"Why? So you could spend the whole flight talking about Tony's latest hare-brained plan to franchise the Avengers?" Clint shook his head. "Not buying it, Nat."
"Maybe I wanted to make sure you were okay?" She dropped the landing gear.
"Yes, I'm okay. No, I'm not going to flee the state or country just yet. Yes, I talked to Bruce. No, I don't think Fury's going to go for Tony's freelance idea." Flashing her a cocky grin, he checked to make sure Carol was still secure. "Can I count this as a psych session? Oh, wait, I don't have to do those anymore."
"You're enjoying this far too much. Maybe I should get myself suspended too." She lowered the jet down, touching the concrete pad with not even so much as a light bounce. "Or is it just the steady diet of sex?"
"Isn't the new boy toy working out?" Clint grinned wickedly and didn't even mind the killing look Nat shot him. He enjoyed teasing Nat, mostly because he rarely got a chance to really get her goat. "When are you going to bring him to movie night?"
Dropping the back gate, Natasha chose to ignore Clint's jib, and she helped oversee the aides in green scrubs who arrived with the doctors, carefully moving the motionless woman and all the equipment. Clint roamed behind her in his dark pants and black polo, hanging back as they rolled Carol through the sliding doors.
"Would you mind grabbing some coffee before we head back?" She asked, as if he was a subordinate, less important. A familiar gambit, he fell into his role easily. "No more than 15 minutes we'll be wheels up."
"Yes, ma'am." He bobbed his head and moved off before anyone could stop him. The signal was clear; Natasha wanted him to check the place out. Turning left, he wandered off, looking for a cafeteria in the Stark Industries research facility. Scientists worked behind glass windows in the first corridor, none of them giving him more than a passing glance; the second turn brought him past what looked like offices and meeting rooms with a hospital feel, clean but enough personal clutter to give the impression real people worked there. He found a small break room with fresh coffee … surprisingly decent brew at that … and carried the two cups, one with sugar and cream, the other black, as he continued exploring.
By the third turn, Clint was feeling out of place, his boots squeaking on the tile floor between the doors of private rooms, many empty. Glancing in each, he strode purposefully past the nurses' station, acting like he knew where he was going. He came to the next turn, stopped, and backed up to the last room on the left, tucked in a corner. A maze of machines along the walls had lights dancing up and down; the whispering sound of air moving through plastic greeted him as he quietly entered. With an unnatural stillness, the man in the bed lay, connected with wires and tubes to all the electronics like scene from some science fiction movie.
"Damn it, Coulson," he murmured. He sat the cups down on a counter and stepped up beside the bed, covering the still hand with his own. "God damn Fury and his secrets."
"He's like Carol," Natasha said from the doorway. "They are keeping him in a coma because they don't know what will happen when he wakes up. The radiation from the staff. It's still present in his system."
"When Amora was picking my brain, making me see him," Clint said, "we had a conversation about it. Guess I was worried about how the staff affected both of us."
"Makes sense, Clint." Natasha assured him. "Hell, you're sleeping with the world's expert on gamma rays, so, of course, you'd reach that conclusion."
"How did you find out he was here?" All told, Clint thought, Phil looked like he could easily sit up at any moment. Probably ask them how the battle went and if Steve signed those damned cards.
"As long as I was in the system tracking you, I poked around a little bit. Turns out, treating gamma poisoning is a very specialized field. This is only one of three places in the world that ever orders a specialized isotope for that and, starting just two days after Coulson died, they began a monthly standing shipment. One that just doubled to include Carol since samples were in the lab when it exploded."
Clint thought about the mourning they'd all shared; it was just like Fury to use Coulson's 'death' to energize the team. "This is Fury's m.o., but how the hell did Tony keep it a secret?"
"He doesn't know. S.H.E.I.L.D. has a contract with the facility, filtered through a number of dummy corporations. I doubt the people here have any idea who's paying the bills for patient 432042."
"Bruce should be working on this." Clint grew angry at the thought of wasted time, how they could have been helping. Tony's resources, Cap's resolve, Thor's knowledge of other worldly ways to treat illness … Phil could have been watching movies with them and arguing about sub-titles.
"We need to go, Clint." Sounds from the hall filtered in, footsteps, movements, voices. Clint's hand slipped off of Coulson's, and he strode out of the room with purpose, picking up the coffees for cover, following Natasha on a different path out of the building.
"You know what this means?" Clint finally broke the silence after they were airborne and sure the comm channels were jammed.
"That you're not crazy?" Natasha cocked her head as she looked at him. "You may have everyone else fooled, but I know you're crazy like a fox."
"Nah, it means Bruce and Tony will worry the problem until he's back …. And then Coulson can give me that disappointed look at getting myself suspended before he starts catching up on all the damn paperwork that we haven't done in the last six months."
That thought made Clint smile even wider as Tasha laughed and turned the jet for home.