The constant, throbbing pain in Phil Coulson's chest was starting to give him deja vu. Indeed, most of the disease or whatever it was was immediately over the twisted scar on his chest.
He supposed it was fitting that the Rider wanted his life. He'd cheated death once before, and that was one more time than most people could manage. On some level he wanted to fight this too, but deep down he knew there was no point.
You didn't go back on a deal with the devil.
Instead of fighting for his life, Phil did what he'd always done. He fought for his team. He fought for the world. He brought Daisy home and kept them all safe.
'She'll never forgive you you know.'
'I have to hope.' And hope he did. He hoped that one day, maybe years from now, after the world hadn't ended and Daisy knew she would never do it, that she would forgive him.
Even if Daisy never did forgive him though, Phil couldn't regret bringing her home. She would live out the rest of her life with her team now, she would walk in the sun and protect humanity and smile and laugh and dance. Even the smallest moments of her life were worth her hating him forever.
Phil knew that he'd have to tell his team eventually. They'd find out one way or another, and when they did they would hate him for keeping it from them. Melinda especially.
Melinda. His best friend. His partner. He knew he should tell her, but he also knew that once he did, he would likely never see her smile again. He had loved seeing his team lately, Fitzsimmons happily planning their wedding, Daisy's sarcasm and attitude, Mack's arguing. They would all treat him differently once they knew, and they wouldn't stop before he died.
Coulson knew that it was selfish, and he kept telling himself to do it. To tell them. To break their hearts. But then Melinda would look at him in that way that made him feel like his legs had given out or Jemma would chirpily ask which kinds of flowers he liked best and he just couldn't do it.
He was a selfish, sentimental old man, and he couldn't go without seeing the people he loved so happy before he died.
He just wanted to hold Melinda in his arms one more time and see that sparkle in her eye. He wanted Daisy to roll her eyes at him one more time, he wanted Yoyo to make fun of him one more time.
That was what he told himself every time they did. That he just wanted to see it another time. Just once more.
Phil knew that he would face oblivion still wanting to see them all happy and together one more time.
He hadn't slept much since coming back. There was too much on his mind. He knew that sleep would probably help with the pain and his deterioration, but the pain kept him from sleeping, and if he asked Jemma for painkillers...
No. He was fine staying awake. He liked to look through old photos of their team, pictures from the academy, family photos with his mom and dad.
Elena entered the kitchen on their floor of the Lighthouse and immediately noticed Coulson staring at some old pictures at the table. He didn't seem to notice her, or at least didn't make any acknowledgement of her as she entered. At first she had felt bad for Coulson, knowing what he knew right now. She still felt sorry for him, felt that urge deep down to save him.
But with every day that passed and he didn't tell the team, she got more and more angry. Did he even plan on telling them? Or was he just planning on keeling over one day and letting them deal with it? Letting Daisy be furious with him until the day he died, give them no time to prepare for it?
That was the anger that caused her to put her cereal bowl down none to gently on the table, sloshing a little milk over the side and making Coulson jump.
"How long are you planning to wait?" She accused.
He frowned, confused. "What?"
Those two words sent a chill through him, but Phil didn't buy it right away. He'd been on the receiving end of that trick too many times. "What are you talking about?"
Elena hesitated, hating the words. "You're dying." She said. "And... we can't stop it."
Phil looked at her for a long moment. As scared as he still was to tell the others, it was kind of nice that she knew. "Yeah."
"You have to tell them."
He sighed softly, bowing his head. "What good would it do? They'd just try to stop it. They'd- they'd spend so much time trying to save me when they should be worried about other things. Like the end of the world."
"They deserve to know." She pressed, ignoring her cereal. "You know they do."
Coulson cocked his head. "How did you know?"
Elena shrugged. "I found out in the future." She said softly. "If we save you... the world ends. That's why you brought Daisy home."
He shook his head. "I would have never left her behind." It was true. He could never leave Daisy behind, least of all in a future like that. She deserved better. She deserved better than to be left behind in a future in which she'd be sold and killed for sport
"It would destroy her if you died and she was still angry with you."
Phil sighed. "I know. I just- I can't tell them yet."
"Then when? When you're on your deathbed?"
"Or do you want them to figure it out? You want them to find out from some computer screen instead of from you?"
Phil looked down. "I just want to see them happy." He whispered. "I don't want to hurt them."
Elena shook her head. "You are not saving them pain by not telling them." She said. "You're just saving yourself."
He buried his face in his hands. "When I tell them..." Tears burned his eyes. "I'll never- I'll never see them happy again." He laughed humourlessly. "It's selfish, I know."
When he looked up it wasn't to see anger or judgement in Elena's eyes. Instead there was only compassion. "Do you believe in heaven?" She asked softly.
Phil swallowed. "I don't know." He said thickly. "I want to, but..."
Elena nodded. She had expected him to say something like that. Faith was hard sometimes. "I do." She murmured. "I believe that when you have lead a good life and helped people, like you have, heaven is there when you die. All the people you love are there."
"I'd like that." Phil said softly. "I don't- I don't want to leave them."
"I know." Elena murmured. "I'm sorry."
Coulson frowned. "Why are you apologising? It's not your fault."
"But it will be when I do whatever it takes for them not to save you." She said quietly. Just thinking about it made her want to run and hide. How could she look May in the eye and tell her that they couldn't save Coulson? That they shouldn't? How could she explain that to Daisy?
How would she live with herself?
A gentle hand was placed over hers and Elena looked up.
Coulson was smiling at her. "It'll be okay." He murmured. "You don't have to do it. I'll tell them. And- I'll tell them not to try to save me."
Elena sighed. "They may not listen."
"I'll use my serious voice."
She smiled. "That might not be enough."
Phil sighed. "I'll figure it out." He muttered. "I- I'll talk to them. Today." He swallowed. "Would you... would you be there? I just need someone who won't- look at me like I've betrayed them."
Elena nodded. "Of course." She murmured, then after a moment of thought, reached behind her neck. After a moment of fiddling with the clasp, her necklace was freed. "You should have this." She said, holding the crucifix out to him, letting the chain pool in Coulson's hand. "To remind you. Have faith."
Phil looked at the shining symbol and remembered how similar his mother's had looked. "Thank you Elena."
She managed a smile. "I will make sure they're okay." She said. "I promise."
He swallowed thickly, wrapping the necklace chain around his hand. "Thank you." It did help, to know that his team would still be there for each other. That they would be safe after he was gone.
And yet he still wanted to see Melinda smile, even if it was just one more time.