They were greeted at the door by Trip’s eldest niece, Janice Triplett, who called out to the rest of the house, “Mr. Coulson’s here!” and led them into a living room where they converged with everyone else. Of all of them, Phil had already met Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Triplett, and Shirley Hoto he knew by reputation, and their greetings were friendly, but there was a feeling of coolness from most of the others, enough to make poor Skye stand closer to him, clutching her three notebooks for little Hitami tightly to her chest.
It was Mrs. Anderson who stood at the forefront when all the greetings had been exchanged, and said, “You told mama that Antoine died saving others, but there was no body to be preserved.” She was clearly demanding more information.
He’d thought they would, and prepared it. “You might have heard, late last year, about a massive earthquake in Puerto Rico, and how it baffled geologists. It was in fact caused by a device he died destroying. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to prevent the earthquake entirely, and it destroyed his body, but he kept it from being much worse, from causing many more deaths.” He saw Skye look down, all too ashamed, but they didn’t need to know about her involvement. “That is all I can tell you, and in fact, I would appreciate if you kept even that much to yourselves.”
But Mrs. Anderson shook her head. “Tomorrow we’re going to be meeting with over a hundred more people who are all going to want to know what happened to him. People who have agonized over him, just like everyone in this room except me and grandmama, having no idea whether he was even alive or dead. He denied, Mr. Coulson, that you put him up to keeping his status concealed, but I wonder.”
“Director Coulson gave no orders to anyone about not telling their families anything,” said Skye angrily. “Everything was his own decision. It was done for your own safety. We’re taking a risk even coming here.”
“Agent,” Phil said to her, gently but firmly. He wasn’t entirely sure they didn’t know her name, or Simmons’, but if they didn’t he wasn’t going to give anything away. “As she says, I left my agents to make that difficult decision themselves. However, we do have some things for you all now.” He nodded to Simmons, who held out the binder they had prepared. “Your brother kept a journal after S.H.I.E.L.D. fell. That we can’t give to you right now, though we hope you can have it someday. We are, however, giving you this binder which has much of its contents, so you can know something of his final months.”
There had been a great fight about this. Skye had advocated for giving them the actual journal, even daring to yell at May when she had objected to giving them even this redacted version. When they’d prepared the binder, there had been debates and agonizing decisions on what to include and what to leave out. From the way Mrs. Anderson took it, and politely thanked an already teary-eyed Simmons, it seemed she was not going to forgive them for holding back anything.
He plowed on. “We also have something for Hitami. Agent Triplett knew he might not live to see her, and in case of that eventuality, he prepared three notebooks for her.” Skye stepped forward, towards Agent Hoto, who rose. Phil noticed she was trembling. “Those are for her to read when she’s older. He also wrote a letter for her mother.”
When Agent Hoto saw the envelope, on top of which was written For Shirley-to be read if I’m dead, she stammered out, “If-if…excuse me,” and snatched up the envelope and ran out of the room.
“Mama?” A little toddler girl who had been sitting with a little boy stumbled to her feet, grabbing onto a table leg to stay up. She looked so much like Trip it was painful to see.
“Oh, is that her?” cried Simmons. “Please, can I…”
“Go ahead,” said Mrs. Triplett, and she knelt, and beckoned to Skye.
“Come on,” she said. When Skye blanched, she said, “He’d want you to. You know that.”
Skye joined her as she took hold of the little girl, helping her stay up as she tried to walk, saying, “Are you Hitami? Your Aunt Marie has told us a little bit about you, you know…”
But from the other room, they could hear the sound of crying. “I think your mama needs us,” Simmons decided, and picked the girl up. “She’s heavy, sir, you should hold her.” Coulson took hold of her as the three of them as well as Mrs. Anderson went to the other room. She looked up at him in confusion, and he tried to smile in reassurance.
Hoto was sobbing into an armchair, the letter clutched in her hand. “Mama?” Hitami asked again, and drew closer to Phil as he whispered to her, “Shhh, it’s okay. Your mother is a very sad right now, but she’s strong, and she’s brave, and she’ll be all right.”
“You did still care you him, didn’t you?” Simmons was asking Hoto. “He still cared for you too. I think he was always sorry things didn’t work out.” She nodded through her tears, trying to pull herself together.
“I know you don’t want to rejoin S.H.I.E.L.D. right now,” Phil said, “and that you aren’t going to have any plans to either. But if you ever change your mind, or even if you think you might be in danger, Mrs. Triplett has our contact information.”
“I can take care of myself,” she said. “And of you all,” she added towards Mrs. Anderson. “Don’t worry about anything. If you even want to make an announcement at the reunion, I’m ready to watch out for everyone there too. But,” she added, now turning towards Simmons, “If any of you want to visit Hitami, as your mission makes convenient, of course, well, I’ll make sure you always know where to find me.”
“Oh, thank you,” said Simmons. “We’d love to see more of her,” and Skye echoed a weak agreement.
As the three of them continued to talk, Mrs. Anderson drew Phil aside. “If you really do remained connected to us,” she said, “or at least to Hitami, we’re going to have to tell the people at the family reunion something to explain it, even if you don’t come with us tomorrow. I’ll try to be ambiguous as possible if you want, but I want them to know Antoine died a hero.”
“Believe me, Mrs. Anderson, so do I.” he told her. “One day I hope the world will know.”
That got a real smile out of her. “Well,” she said. “At least we agree on one thing.”