Washington DC. The sky glows orange as cranes can be seen across the horizon, the rebuilding of the city has begun. Thousands of mourners have gathered by a large monument, a flame flickers on top of it. The words In Memory of Those Fallen etched into the monument. Photographs are taped to the monument, while candles and wreaths lay around it. ‘…three weeks since the armies of Kang were routed and America freed - but the vigil here in Washington DC, where all those trapped in the city died during Kang’s assault, continues unabated. It’s estimated that over 75,000 mourners are here on the National Mall, today - here to express their grief and sorrow at the almost unimaginable loss the nation has suffered - to express their thanks to the Avengers for their actions in freeing the world from the domination of a madman - and to say goodbye to those who died - to relatives, friends, colleagues - a final goodbye to those whose voices have been forever silenced’ a reporter announces.
At that moment, inside Avengers Mansion, New York City. ‘Step forward, Carol Susan Jane Danvers a.k.a. Warbird’ orders Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America. Warbird approaches a chair, seated before a matching table, where Captain America stands with several of their Avengers teammates. ‘Step forward to receive the judgment of your fellow Avengers’ Cap adds, while Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch and her brother Pietro a.k.a. Quicksilver, Dr Hank Pym a.k.a. Yellowjacket, Tony “Iron Man” Stark, Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp and Maria De Guadalupe Santiago a.k.a. Silverclaw stand in silence as Captain America states, for the record, who is in attendance.
Captain America states that they are all either active Avengers in good standing, witnesses to the events that concern them, or both. ‘Let the record further show - that this court-martial regarding the death of the so-called Master of the World has been requested by Warbird herself, in accordance with her rights as an Avenger. Cap announces that they have heard testimony from the other Avengers present at the time, and that it was heard privately as Warbird requested. Cap asks Warbird to sit down and give them her account of the events under investigation.
Carol looks nervous as she thanks Captain America, and remarks that she is not sure where, or how to begin, before declaring that they had been sent to secure the Master’s base, as he had defense technology capable of resisting Kang, but would have let Europe and Asia be devastated before taking an active hand, so they were to seize it. ‘But we’d been unable to defeat him - his suit absorbed my power blasts, I couldn’t get through his guard to knock him out - it was urgent. We were at war - there was no time - I killed him!’ she exclaims, raising her hands. ‘I thought it was right at the time, the only option. But Avengers…Avengers aren’t supposed to kill!’.
Carol declares that if she hadn’t, if they had managed to capture the Master and persuade him to aid them, Washington might not have paid the price. Carol hangs her head as she tells her teammates that she takes full responsibility for her actions, and doesn’t want any favors, which is why she asked that the others testify in private. ‘Whatever punishment you deem necessary…I’m here to accept it’ Carol declares. Captain America thanks Warbird and asks her to step out for a moment.
Shortly, ‘Very well. We are agreed in this?’ Cap asks his teammates. ‘We are unanimous?’ Cap asks. ‘Yes’ some of them reply. Carol looks down as Captain America calls her full name once more, and tells her that this court-martial finds that the circumstances surrounding the events under investigation were extraordinary and unusual. ‘The world was at war. And the Avengers were conducting a duly-authorized military mission on behalf of the United States to secure the objective at any and all costs’. Cap continues, announcing that, accordingly, they find that Warbird was acting as a soldier in the service of her country as well as an Avenger.
‘In addition, given the power and threat-level of the Master, we agree that time was crucial and that there was no evident alternative’ Captain America tells Warbird. He adds that they further find that the Avengers interdiction against the use of lethal force was suspended - that the death of the Master, while regrettable, was justifiable and that no punishment or censure is merited. Carol looks up, surprised: ‘I - I don’t - what did you say?’. The Wasp flits over to Carol, exclaiming ‘He said to quit beating yourself up, blue-eyes. You did the right thing, and you’re cleared!’ Janet exclaims, asking Carol if they get to see a smile on her face. Iron Man shakes Carol’s hand, congratulating her. ‘It took a lot to demand that court-martial, and the verdict was just’.
‘But, Washington -’ Carol begins, only for Iron Man to interrupt: ‘Listen to me, Carol. Kang destroyed Washington. That’s his crime, not yours. What you did helped us take the world back from that murderous monster. Focus on that’. Wanda approaches Carol and reminds her that she has been through a lot. ‘And the Avengers haven’t always been there for you. But this time…Carol, are you tearing up?’. Carol replies that she is a little, and that she is still taking it in. Carol smiles and remarks that she didn’t think it would go this way, that she thought she would be kicked out again, at the very least. ‘But I had to face it, had to know. I feel like I’ve turned a corner - like after all this time I might actually have what it takes’.
The two best friends hug as Wanda tells Carol that she always did have what it takes. ‘And we all knew it. You just had to realize it for yourself’. Wanda tells Carol to come with her, as there are a lot of people waiting to see her. Warbird and the Scarlet Witch enter the living area, where Captain America, Quicksilver, Yellowjacket, Iron Man, Wasp and Silverclaw have joined the almost all of the other Avengers who have been active during the battle against Kang - Simon “Wonder Man” Williams, Hercules, Bonita “Firebird” Juarez, Dr Walter Newell a.k.a. Stingray, Natasha Romanova a.k.a. the Black Widow, Monica “Photon” Rambeau, Miguel Santos a.k.a. Living Lightning, Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters, Jack Hart a.k.a. Jack of Hearts, Angelica “Firestar” Jones and Vance “Justice” Astrovik, as well as the Avengers’ butler, Edwin Jarvis.
‘Woo-Hooo!’ shouts the Wasp as she flits around the room, echoed by other comments: ‘Carol!’, ‘Congratulations!’, ‘Warbird!’, ‘Way to go, girl!’, ‘Knew it’d turn out this -’, ‘-only possible way!’. And soon, the halls of Avengers Mansion are alive with conversation and laughter as old friends and battle-comrades let off steam. Hercules tells She-Hulk that he is fully recovered from the fields of France, and asks her if she wants to test him. Sitting on a couch, Justice tells Jack of Hearts that being an Avenger can be intimidating at first, but to take it from him, an old hand, that he will get used to it in no time. ‘Vance!’ Firestar exclaims, scolding her boyfriend, who hasn’t been an Avenger much longer than Jack of Hearts.
Jarvis thanks Photon after asking her to spread the word to the others to remain in the Mansion a while longer. ‘Of course’ Monica replies, while Firebird asks Wasp if there has been any sign of Thor at all. ‘Not since Kang’s defeat, Firebird. And I don’t understand it!’ Janet exclaims, remarking that it is as if Thor up and vanished, to which Firebird looks concerned. Cap, Iron Man, Hank and Living Lightning are watching a news report of the mourning, as the reporter remarks: ‘Spoken with hundreds of the mourners here today. They have come from as close by as Virginia and Maryland - and from as far away as California, Hawaii and even the Philippines. But wherever they come from, they all share a single purpose -’.
Jarvis approaches Iron Man, informing him that he has heard from Mr Freeman, and that he will be arriving shortly. Iron Man pauses, before thanking Jarvis, and asking him to let him know when Mr Freeman arrives. ‘He’s taking this pretty hard’ Hank remarks to Cap as Iron Man passes Quicksilver and Silverclaw and leaves the room. ‘He and Duane…they didn’t get along well, not once the Triune business came to light. And now…’ Cap’s voice trails off.
Meanwhile, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Peggy Chandler got home at noon. Since then, she has been out in the front yard, gazing skyward and hoping. Hoping and praying. And now, Peggy lets out the breath she has been holding as she realizes her prayers have been answered. ‘Oh my Lord. Oh my dear Lord’ the aged woman gasps quietly as she gets to her feet and stares skyward - where the Avenger known as Triathlon a.k.a. Delroy Garrett sparkles red, yellow and green alongside the 3-D Man and his brother. ‘I got your message - it was on the machine when I got home - but I didn’t dare believe it until…’ her voice trails off.
‘Believe it, Mrs Chandler. I told you I’d do my best to find your missing husband and return him to you and I’m sorry for how long it took. But here is he. Your husband and one more’ Triathlon replies. ‘And now…if I can do this right…’ he remarks, before there is a flash of multi-colored light, and he, Chuck and Hal are returned to normal. ‘We…we’re back’ Hal remarks. Chuck removes his 3-D Man cowl and exclaims that it feels like he has not taken it off, hasn’t breathed air for himself or felt sunshine on his face since 1958. Peggy hugs her husband and brother-in-law. ‘Both of you! Both of you returned to me!’ she exclaims. ‘Easy there, old girl…’ Hal jokes. ‘Peg! Been a while, sister-in-law, been a while - but you’re still the cutest chick in the whole southwest!’ Chuck exclaims.
Peggy tells Triathlon that she cannot stop thanking him enough - that she will never stop thanking him. Chuck announces that he has a question, asking why he is restored to a physical form, as he was caught in that explosion back in 1958. Triathlon explains to Chuck that his body was converted to energy by that explosion, that is what let him merge with his brother to become the 3-D Man, and that all he did was use the last of the power he absorbed to convert that energy back. ‘You’ve missed a lot of years, Chuck, but at least you’ve got family to help you start over’ Delroy smiles.
Hal tells Delroy that he agrees with Peggy, that they will be grateful to him forever. ‘I can feel it - the powers are gone. Chuck and I aren’t the 3-D Man any more. Are you…?’ Hal’s voice trails off. Delroy lifts his hands and announces that he is back to normal, that the cosmic power is gone, but the old triple-powers are back. Hal asks Triathlon what he will do next, to which Delroy replies that he is not sure, remarking that the Triune Understanding is trying to reorganize, and that he hopes they make it, because they have done a lot of good, even if their leadership was corrupt. ‘They’ve asked me to be a part of it, but I don’t think I will…not now, at least’ Delroy reveals, announcing that he will go back to New York, and to the Avengers, at least for a while. ‘The world’s been through a bad time - and I think it needs all the help it can get to rebuild’.
Meanwhile, the man known as Victor Shade stands amongst a group of people, but apart from them as well. He listens to the ebb and flow of their chatter. They have come to watch. To feel like a part of the rebuilding, the rebirth. The construction crews have been working ‘round the clock night and day, working to rebuild the United Nations Building as swiftly as possible, making it, whether consciously or not, a symbol of an affirmation that the war is over - and every day, every night, New York has come out to support them. They are an astonishingly resilient race, these humans. If he lives for a thousand years, he may never fully understand them.
Suddenly, a voice calls out - ‘Victor? Victor Shade? I haven’t seen you since Chicago!’ a blonde woman remarks as she approaches Victor. ‘Darby?’ Victor replies, surprised. ‘It is…pleasant to see you, Darby. What brings you to New York?’ Victor asks. ‘That, mostly’ Darby explains, motioning to the construction, remarking that the company she works for does what they call “impossible engineering”. ’You want to get a complete medical suite to the top of Everest - or a wedding party down to the main ballroom of the Titanic, we’re who you call’ Darby smiles. Darby explains that they have been volunteering, doing what they can to make the rebuilding go faster. ‘I’ve been helping out on the UN project’ she adds, telling Victor that it is great to run into him though, as he kinda vanished when they were in Chicago.
Victor apologizes to Darby for that, before announcing that he should explain, and suddenly shifts his form into his true guise - that of the android Avenger known as the Vision. ‘Victor shade is merely a holographic exterior. A hollow shell. I am in truth the Vision’. He explains to Darby that when he met her he was on a surveillance mission. Casually, Darby replies that she thought it was something like that. ‘You…knew?’ the Vision asks, surprised. ‘Well, not then. But Pete saw you flying away from the bar…and with the Avengers all over the news right after that, I sorta put two and two together’ Darby smiles.
The Vision frowns and apologizes once more. ‘I was…unsettled, and was spending time in human form, attempting to connect with humanity - to discover what it would be like to be human. If my deception harmed you in any way -’ he remarks, but Darby tells the Vision that he has nothing to apologize for. ‘You’re a great guy to talk to, or to go to a ball game with - even if you do root for the wrong teams’ Darby smiles. Darby tells the Vision that Victor may not be as hollow as he thinks, and hands him her business card in case he ever wants to connect with his humanity again. ‘We could meet for drinks, catch a game, whatever’ she tells him.
‘Don’t be a stranger!’ Darby waves at the Vision as he thanks her and looks at her card. This is another piece of it, he realizes. Another thing that humanity brings with it. Unexpected connections to one’s own past. An odd experience…but on the whole…a decidedly pleasant one. With that, he takes to the sky, to the amazement of those civilians nearby.
Back at Avengers Mansion, Stingray, Black Widow and Living Lightning are watching the media report of the mourners. ‘- was trapped outside the city when the weapon-walls went up, imprisoning everyone still inside. His wife and young son, however, were on the other side of the wall when calamity struck -’ a reporter announces. ‘Man. Man, just think about it…’ Miguel remarks. ‘You said it, Lightning’ Stingray agrees, before pointing out that it could have been much worse. ‘And not to change the subject too drastically, but I haven’t eaten since I got down here from Canada’ Walt announces, asking Jarvis if there is any chance he could rustle himself up a sandwich. A rather suspicious Jarvis tells Walter that he is sorry, but the kitchen is temporarily out of order. ‘If you could -’ he begins, before excusing himself as the doorbell rings.
In one of the communications rooms, Iron Man is talking to Dane Whitman a.k.a. the Black Knight, who is still in Canada. Dane tells Tony that when they failed to punch in the proper override code, the Master’s computers started a countdown, and they were barely able to evacuate before the whole command base crumbled to dust around them. ‘The command base - and the weapon-walls he’d created throughout North America’ Dane adds. ‘And there’s nothing left?’ Iron Man asks. ‘Nothing we can make any sense of, at least…just a big hollow area in the ice - and this weird inorganic dust we can’t make heads or tails of’ Dane replies. He adds that he thinks about what they could have learned from it, and what that alien technology could have taught them. ‘But we don’t even know if part of it slipped away, or if the whole base self-destructed. It’s just…gone’ Dane points out.
‘Solves some of our clean-up problem, but…’ Dane begins, but Iron Man tells him that is the way it is with villains. ‘The Master’s killed, his base dissolves. Kang’s defeated…and he flees into any of the myriad branches of the time stream where we have no way to track him…and us? We just get to deal with the repercussions. With whatever got left behind’ Tony exclaims, hanging his head, when suddenly Jarvis enters. ‘Sir? Mister Freeman is here, Sir…’ he announces. Tony thanks Jarvis and asks him to show Mr Freeman to the office and explain that he will be there in a few minutes.
Shortly, ‘Mister Freeman?’ Iron Man remarks as he enters the office. ‘Please, Iron Man - make it “Derek”!’ Derek Freeman exclaims as he spins around from the desk. Both men look at each other in silence, before Iron Man tells Derek that he is sorry for his loss. ‘Your brother - it’s our loss, too. Our loss’ he tells him. Derek thanks Iron Man, before they both stare at each other in silence once more. Derek announces that his brother loved working here, being the Avengers Federal Security Liaison. ‘Working directly with you - he was a big fan of the Avengers, and of the work you do’. Derek holds up a box labelled “Freeman” and pulls out a Captain America figurine, telling Iron Man that right from the start Diane collected all the memorabilia - toys, posters, and he had dozens of scrapbooks with newspaper and magazine stories.
‘He followed your adventures the way other people follow sports teams - and to work directly with you, to be a part of it all - I’d never seen him happier’ Derek remarks, holding up a poster of an Avengers line-up of years ago from amongst his brother’s belongings. Iron Man tells Derek that it was a refreshing change to have someone so enthusiastic to work with. ‘We haven’t had the best of luck with our liaisons in the past’ he points out, adding that Duane was a breath of fresh air in that regard. ‘Plus, he was conscientious, energetic….he was…was…’ Iron Man struggles for words.
‘Iron Man? Is something wrong?’ Derek asks. Iron Man tells Derek that he asked to be the one to meet with him when he came to collect his brother’s belongings, but that he is not 100% sure why. Iron Man turns from Derek as he reveals ‘Duane and I…the Avengers had some trouble with the Triune Understanding. When I found out Duane was a member…I didn’t take it well. Things were…well, they weren’t easy between us’ Iron Man explains. Derek remains silent, listening as Iron Man continues: ‘In the end, we learned the truth. The Triune Understanding wasn’t itself corrupt - just its founder, Jonathan Tremont, and some of his top aides. But by then, Washington was gone. And Duane with it’.
Looking down to the floor, Iron Man announces that he has wanted to apologize to Duane ever since. ‘But it’s too late. We ended on a bad note, and that’ll never change’. Derek suddenly tells Iron Man that there is something he needs to know. ‘I’ve been going through the papers recovered from Duane’s Washington office, and some of his notes…he’d been doing some checking. He may have been a Triune member, but he was also your security liaison, and he took that very seriously’. Derek reveals that according to Duane’s notes, the Triune Understanding knew various Avengers priority frequencies, and he was trying to figure out why.
Derek explains that Duane’s notes were inconclusive, but they indicated that when a Triune member underwent one of the Understanding’s “mental cleansing rituals” it was possible that Jonathan Tremont was able to read their minds. ‘He thought the leaks had come through him. Through his mind, his memories. One of the things we found in his office was a draft letter of resignation’ Derek reveals. ‘A what?’ Iron Man asks. ‘But - even if that was the case, it wouldn’t have been Duane’s fault. He couldn’t have known. We could have taken steps, built safeguards against - there’d had been no need for him to resign!’ Iron Man exclaims.
‘He’d have been gratified to hear you say that’ Derek replies, revealing that Duane had enormous respect or Iron Man. ‘Oh, I don’t think -’ Iron Man replies, but Derek tells him to hold it: ‘Duane told me something once, about what happened when Triathlon joined the team. He said you’d been opposed to it, because of Triathlon’s Triune affiliation - and he had to get in your face about it, telling you you were being unfair, that it was guilt by association. He said you hated hearing that. Hated it like fire’. Derek continues: ‘But he also said you listened. And that you backed down. Realized you were wrong, and changed course. All that power in your hands, he said and you still kept your brain in control, no matter how angry you were. He said that’s the mark of a truly honorable man’ Derek smiles.
Derek picks up the box of Duane’s belongings and begins to leave the office, telling Iron Man not to worry too much about not having had the chance to tell Duane what he thought. ‘Duane was always the smart one in the family. He always knew the score, believe me, he knew’ Derek remarks, unaware that he left a poster of the Avengers on the desk. ‘Thanks for meeting with me’ he tells Iron Man as he leaves.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Avengers are getting restless. ‘C’mon, Jarvis, at least tell us what we’re waiting -’ one of them begins, but Jarvis asks them to be patient for a few minutes longer. ‘Okay, Jarv. Just don’t let it wait till we get angry’ Justice jokes. ‘You wouldn’t like us when we’re angry’ She-Hulk adds.
Nearby, Firebird sits with Captain America, Yellowjacket and the Wasp. ‘…and I think…I think I might have been the one that drove Thor away, made him vanish like that’ Bonita reveals. ‘Oh, Firebird, I’m sure you didn’t -’ the Wasp begins, but Firebird explains that Thor had been talking about leaving the team when this war was over, and of distancing himself from mortal affairs. ‘I tried to get him to change his mind, but then…I lost my temper, I yelled at him. And when I tried to apologize…he wouldn’t even speak to me!’. Firebird remarks ‘I’m sure that had something to do with -’, but Jarvis suddenly exclaims ‘Ahem! Excuse me, everybody - I thank you all for waiting so patiently, and if you’ll just turn your attention this way for a moment -’ he remarks. There is a bright light. ‘Hey!’ the Wasp exclaims. ‘Whoa!’ Hank declares. ‘What in the -?’ Firebird asks as Thor appears. ‘Ho, Avengers! Ho, my comrades!’
Flanked by several Asgardians, some carrying a large cooked hog, Thor declares that the Avengers have been victorious against a most mighty and terrible enemy, and now the time has come to celebrate. ‘In gleaming Asgard, such a victory would be marked by six days of feasting, jousts and entertainments most varied and diverting - and while I fear that such a flood of merriments would be too much for this particular assemblage - I have borrowed the finest of Asgard’s imperial chefs, that thou might know a taste of the honor thou dost deserve’. Thor tells his teammates to join him at the table, so he can see if the Avengers are mighty trenchermen as well as mighty warriors. ‘And I assure thee, friend Jarvis, that by evening’s end…thy kitchen will be as spotless as it was this morn’ Thor whispers. ‘Most appreciated, Sir’ Jarvis replies.
And soon, the Avengers are seated around the large dining table with Thor standing up: ‘A moment, my friends. For I do have some few remarks to make, ere we set to!’ he begins. Thor removes his helmet, announcing that he had come to fear, of late, that an immortal like himself had no place here on Migard, and that the ties he did make with mortals would surely be too fleeting, the pain of inevitable loss to great. ‘But I was shown the error of my ways by a wise young woman…a woman courageous enough to challenge my foolishness, to open my eyes. And now I raise my glass to her: to FIREBIRD! She who aided a God by treating him as the fool he was!’. Bonita blushes as her teammates all raise their glasses. She smiles at Thor.
Thor continues, announcing that Firebird gave him much to think on these past weeks, and he came to understand. ‘It is the bonds we make that we know will be broken, those we love who we know will not be with us forever - that are all the more precious, simply because they will be one day gone. Those are the bonds we must take joy in, the comrades we must celebrate now, while they remain near to us’. Thor declares that today they stand in the midst of a hand-fought victory, and amongst grievous losses. ‘And I charge thee, as we do in Asgard, and as do the heroes of Valhalla itself…take joy in the victory - joy that right hath been done and peace restored - and honor those we have lost - by keeping them in our hearts, where they may live forever. To Migard, my friends! To the AVENGERS! And to humanity itself!’ Thor cries, and everyone raises their drinks once more in toast.
All but Iron Man however, he walked in on Thor’s speech partway through, only to leave. The Wasp notices this, so shrinks down and follows him up the stairs, ‘All right, Tin Man, ‘fess up. What’s going on? Why the quiet departure?’ she asks. Tony replies that he is not in a party mood, and that he has something he wants to do. Janet tells Tony that she thinks she knows what he has got planned and that she will go with him, adding that she thinks there is someone else here who will want to come, too.
Washington DC. The sky glows orange later that day, as Captain America, Iron Man and the Wasp stand before the monument to those fallen. Iron Man kneels at the monument and hangs his head. ’He was so utterly dedicated. He had no fear. No fear at all. He even took on Thor when he thought he had to’ Iron Man remarks. ’He did?’ Janet asks. Captain America tells Jan that she wasn’t there at that time, and she should have seen it. ’He actually backed Thor up a step. Thor was towering over him, in full wrathful-god mode - but Duane didn’t give an inch. Not an inch…’ Cap smiles, before stepping onto his hover-disc as Iron Man and the Wasp take flight.
‘It was something to see, Jan. Something for the books’ Cap adds. ‘Yes, for the books’ Iron Man agrees. ‘Goodbye, Duane. You’ll be missed. You’ll all be missed’ Tony announces as they fly away, leaving a photograph of Duane taped to the monument, alongside his poster of the Avengers. And the sky continues to glow as Washington continues to be rebuilt.