There's no "morning" that morning, just a very long day that stretches and stretches and then is over very suddenly. Somewhere in it, he catches a two hour nap and has three cups of coffee, which is better than some days he's been through at SHIELD.
Loki's forces have infiltrated the Helicarrier, and everything has gone to hell very quickly. He's calling up plans in his head, protocol; he's got something for everyone on the team, some way to incapacitate them- permanently, if necessary- and he keeps his mind on the one for Barton. It makes him sick to his stomach thinking about it, about how simple the plan for Barton is, but Barton's always been aware that he couldn't take a bullet to the head and live.
"It's time," Fury says over the radio, and Coulson doesn't know what that means. He shakes his head, having the weirdest feeling of deja vu for a second, but then Fury tells him to get to the detention section, and Coulson's on it as fast as he can.
What he does next, it's really hard to think of it as anything other than a major fuck-up. He follows orders to a T, and maybe that's the wrong thing to do this time, when there's a megalomaniacal pseudo-deity with a bad taste in headgear running around and he's just a guy with a Glock- the plan for taking him out is even shorter than the one for taking out Barton. He might should have said, "Fuck you, sir, send me with backup or don't send me at all." Fury might have understood that, having personally seen Phil do that before, disobey a stupid order; maybe he would have realized exactly how stupid the idea was if he saw Phil do it again.
Still, he does what he should, he does what he can, but the tip of the spear is so cold when it goes into him that it feels like it's burning him up. He remembers to do what little he can; he keeps his grip on his gun, he gets his back to a wall, he doesn't let Loki get between him and the door, not that it matters when he can barely breathe, much less walk.
He's seen more people than he wants to remember bleed out, and he knows that this is it, that he has to do whatever he can to hang on as long as he can. This is his life, this is the only thing he's ever had, ever will have, and there will be nothing after it, nothing but nothing and nothing stretching out into nothing. There are no atheists in foxholes, but this isn't a war of attrition. This is yes or no, world ends or it doesn't, win or lose.
Coulson might have lost, but he's still on the winning side.
He tells Loki so, because if he's got to go out, he's going out in style. He gets to fire the coolest weapon he's ever seen while he's doing it, and for five minutes, he's a hero. That's what he's always wanted, what he thought of when it was just him alone; it felt so good to think about, comforting, funny, the level he was never going to reach. There was never a point where he'd have traded dying for it, and he was right not to, because this is a pretty fucking raw deal.
He even gets to say a hero-cool line before he starts to really lose it, before he realizes he's gone into shock- at least, he hopes it sounded as cool out loud as it did in his head. And then it's him, alone; Loki is gone and Thor is gone and there is nothing there but the rushing noise in his ears.
Fury is there suddenly, blocking the blinding light that's coming from the ceiling. He's telling Coulson to hold on, and Coulson wants to tell him to stop, not to make it harder for himself, but the words don't go right. He says something really important instead, something critical, the most important thing he's ever-
There is nothing.
In the infirmary, he doesn't look like he's sleeping, he doesn't look like he's passed out, he doesn't look like he's anything but dead. He's a corpse, and he'll never be anything else again. This wasn't the plan for Coulson; it was supposed to be Mozambique, two in the chest and one in the head, humane as possible by SHIELD standards, the energy weapon as a worst-worst-case scenario fallback. He wasn't supposed to have to watch himself bleed out, because that was cruel, too cruel to put anyone or anything through.
He reaches over and shuts Coulson's eyes so that he won't have to see the look in them anymore, terror and disbelief, but with the tiniest sliver of satisfaction lancing through it.
Nick steps up behind him; he's gotten used to the distinctive sound of Nick's coat as he walks, something he'll never, ever tell Nick about, just in case he needs for Nick not to know about it. He still doesn't jump when Nick puts a hand on his shoulder, letting the tension in it say everything he needs to say.
"And Stark hath provided the lamb," Nick says quietly. "I'm sorry," he adds, seeing the look on Phil's face.
"You killed me," he says.
"I saved you," Nick tells him.
"You sent me in to die, and I did," Phil says; his anger is a distant thing, covered up with layers and layers of hurt and sorrow and things he can't even name. "I hope you're happy."
"How could I be?" Nick says. "I put out my own eye this time." He sighs. "I'm not going to stand here and tell you I didn't know something was going to happen. I wouldn't have put it in if I thought there wasn't a very good chance I was going to lose you."
Phil has to actively stop himself from screaming. "He was four years old, and you wasted him in ten minutes with a bad order," he tells him. "I watched him for four years, Nick. I saw him every week to have him updated with the right memories. I trained him to fight myself just so he would know every single move I do." Nick knows all of this, signed off on every one of the forms, even watched some of the training sessions himself, but right now, he needs to be told. He needs to hear everything that Phil has to say, even though he won't get it, even though he never could. Nick wouldn't let them make him an LMD; given what Phil did to himself by getting too involved with it, Nick probably made the right call.
Phil is dead, now. It's not that a part of him died, or that he had to see himself dead, or that he lost his life's work when Coulson lost his life. Phil is dead. His body is cold, the machinery underneath his flesh stopped. There's no fixing him, no point in it even if they can, because Coulson is dead, and Phil has died with him.
"You killed me," he says. "I quit."
"You won't be any use to me for a long time," Nick says, and it's sad, not accusatory; Phil is never going to forgive him, not for an instant, but it's been over twenty years since they met, over twenty years they've been fighting together. "Usual applies. Got you some new clothes, new stuff, new identity, but I know you well enough to know you'll have a new fake in a couple of days." Phil laughs humorlessly. "Everything else will be destroyed, but I thought you might want to have these." He holds out Phil's trading cards; the fact that Phil collects them a little obsessively is the worst-kept secret at SHIELD, but it's hard to be embarrassed about it right now.
He lifts up the cover of the box- non-vintage but archival quality, the best he can do until he can finally track down one of the real store displays on eBay at a reasonable price, which will be about the same time the Holy Grail goes for fifty bucks- and what he sees would be infuriating if he had anything left to feel with.
Phil shuts his eyes. "For Christ's sake," he sighs. "That better be Rogers's blood on there or the whole set is ruined." He opens his eyes, frowning. "Those cards were in my locker. They should be fine."
It clicks in Phil's head; Nick's secrets have secrets have secrets, but sometimes it makes him very predictable. "You showed them. It wasn't even enough for you to prove I had these cards. You put Coulson's blood on them and showed them." He makes a noise of disgust. "I knew you were a bastard, but I didn't know you were a monster."
"This is a war," Nick says. "You do your worst when you're at war."
"You do your worst to the other guy," Phil says fiercely. "If you can't even remember that, then I should have left a long time ago."
Phil walks out, and Nick doesn't stop him.
Phil is dead.
It's very cruel that he has to keep living.