Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America leans over a meeting room table at Avengers HQ. He frowns, before announcing ‘All in favor of having me step down as the Chief Executive and Commanding Officer of the two branches of Avengers - signify by saying “aye”!’ The meeting room is full of Avengers from the East and West Coast branches, as well as several inactive Avengers who have recently been assisting the teams. Most of the female Avengers are seated around the table - Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. the Black Widow; Sersi; Monica “Captain Marvel” Rambeau, Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp, Crystal, Bobbi “Mockingbird” Morse Barton, Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch and Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters. Only Spider-Woman a.k.a. Julia Carpenter, relatively new to the Avengers, stands at the back of the room, alongside fellow new-recruit, Miguel Santos the Living Lightning.
Quasar a.k.a. Wendell Vaughn, Dr Hank Pym, Dane Whitman the Black Knight, Starfox, Gilgamesh, Hercules, Tony “Iron Man” Stark, the Vision, Clint “Hawkeye” Barton in his Goliath guise, Eric Masterton the new Thor and Simon “Wonder Man” Williams round at the assembled Avengers. Dane tells Cap to come on, as none of them will vote for that. Iron Man remarks that Cap thinks the contingent of Avengers responsible for terminating the Supreme Intelligence, who, he reminds Cap, is responsible for the deaths of untold billions of Kree, ought to have some disciplinary action brought against them. ‘The majority of us have voted against that’ Iron Man points out, assuring Cap that does not mean they want to take his job away - it just means that many of them disagree with him as far as what constitutes appropriate conduct in a time of war.
Hawkeye states that this “Galactic Storm” has left a lot of them really stressed out. ‘All of us - the two space teams, as well as the home team - busted our humps the past few weeks’ he adds, suggesting that they adjourn this meeting debriefing, as they can always follow up if need be after they have had a little rest and relaxation. ‘Very well’ Cap agrees, before informing the others that he has one last item - tonight at 19:30 he will be giving a seminar on superhuman ethics. He urges them all to attend. The new Thor raises his hand and asks him if it is mandatory, while thinking to himself that he has to go see his son before he forgets he even has a father. Cap explains that the seminar is voluntary. ‘Just asking’ Thor mumbles, before Cap adjourns the meeting. Cap is the first to leave, turning and striding out of the meeting room. ‘Whew! I’ve never seen Cap so…tense!’ She-Hulk remarks, while the Black Widow thinks to herself ‘Poor Steve’. ‘Excuse me, everybody!’ Quasar shouts as he flies past everyone to follow Cap. Hawkeye tells the young Avenger to stop being a show-off.
‘Say, Cap… wait up!’ Quasar calls out as he lands in the corridor. Wendell tells Cap that he didn’t want to bring it up back there and waste everyone else’s time, before nervously announcing that he was thinking of taking a leave of absence from the team. ‘Oh?’ Cap replies. Wendell reminds Cap that he told him during his membership interview that the cosmic entity responsible for his Quantum-Bands appointed him “Protector of the Universe”, and he doesn’t think he has been doing such a hot job of that staying Earthbound as much as he has. ‘Who knows? If I’d found a way to be a better protector, I might have learned about the Kree-Shi’ar War sooner…and been able to save some lives’ Wendell laments. Cap asks him if he is thinking of leaving immediately, and, in the nearby kitchen, Edwin Jarvis checks some food he is cooking, while Quasar tells Cap that he knows this is short notice, but he wants to check on the Kree Empire and see if there is anything he can do for the survivors.
Wendell informs Cap that he does want to attend the seminar tonight, though, but Cap tells him not to worry about it, as he is not one of the Avengers he feels he needs to lecture on ethics. Wendell thanks Cap, and they make their way out to the front of Avengers HQ, as Cap tells Wendell that he will be a hard man to replace, but the Kree, the universe, undoubtedly needs him more than the Avengers do. Cap asks Wendell to keep him posted on his activities, and as they shake hands, Wendell assures him that he will. ‘And whenever you’re in the vicinity, you’ll always be welcome here. Once an Avenger…’ Cap tells the young hero. Quasar takes to the air, ‘Thanks… Cap. It means a lot ot me! You’re the greatest!’ he calls back. Cap waves goodbye, and thinks to himself ‘Yeah. But the greatest what?’
Cap makes his way back inside, and goes to the communications center, where Peggy Carter is surprised to see him. She embraces her old friend, and tells him that it is good to see him back. ‘Were you in outer space all this time? I was so worried…’ her voice trails off, before she clears her throat and apologizes. ‘You should slap me when I start acting like a mother hen’ she tells him, but Cap assures her that it is all right, and points out that USAgent and the Falcon were not at the debriefing, so he asks for their mission status.
Peggy informs Cap that they received a call three days ago from his old enemy Flag-Smasher, that it had something to do with a friend of his whom she never met - Demolition Man, so USAgent and Falcon went to investigate. ‘D-MAN?’ Cap gasps, before instructing Peggy to put a tracer on that Quinjet and to call John Jameson, as he wants to follow up on it at once. Peggy reveals to Cap that his pilot hasn’t reported in since Cap left for space, and she thinks he may be looking for Diamondback. ‘You mean she -’ Cap begins, forlorn. ‘Haven’t heard a peep from her in almost three weeks’ Peggy informs Cap, who hangs his head and utters ‘I go away and the whole world falls apart’.
Riverside Avenue, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where the villain called Crossbones, wearing a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, leads Rachel “Diamondback” Leighton along the sidewalk. ‘Whatsa matter, Ratsel? For weeks now, you’ve been begging me to let you outta our abandoned subway station hideaway - and now that I finally give in to yer whining, yer embarrassing me by walking like a feeb!’ he exclaims. Diamondback tells her captor that he knows very well why she is too weak to walk straight - she is starving, as he hasn’t given her a decent meal in weeks. Crossbones admits that he has been a little bit stingy in the food department. ‘But ya gotta admit, it did the trick - took the fighting spirit right outta - what’d you used to call yerself - Diamondbutt?’ he jokes.
‘Anyway, toots, you and me are going on a field trip. I’m sick of the Big Rotten Apple’ Crossbones announces, before smashing a window on a car which he declares that he will hotwire. They get into the car, and shortly, speed away. ‘Ah, feels great to go mobile, don’t it?’ Crossbones remarks, while Diamondback asks him where he is taking her. ‘I told you, babe. A field trip’ Crossbones replies, promising Diamondback that she will like it much better than the subway, and that he has a nice peaceful place in mind for her - real peaceful, no one around but earthworms. ‘You’re going to bury me alive…?’ Diamondback asks. ‘Mmm… not exactly’ Crossbones replies.
Meanwhile, Cap is sitting at the desk in his office at Avengers HQ. He thinks to himself that the organization is a mess - but if it’s not one thing it is another. He decides that the reserves are particularly in a shambles - Spider-Man and the Sub-Mariner didn’t respond to the emergency summons at the onset of “Operation Galactic Storm”, so he knows he can’t count on them as back-ups. He looks at the list of names on the monitor before him -Beast, Hellcat, She-Hulk, Falcon, Sub-Mariner, Quicksilver, Ant-Man, Rage and Moondragon are all listed as “inactive” while Jocasta is listed as “deceased”. ‘Oh, what’s the use? Maybe I should throw the towel in. Maybe somebody with newer, fresher ideas could keep this rag-tag group running better than me’ Steve thinks to himself.
He rubs his nose and decides that it seems his style of professional behavior is out of fashion, at odds with this increasingly violent society. He wonders if guys like Punisher, Cable and Wolverine are the answer to the kinds of threats America faces today - perhaps bad attitudes and lax moral codes are the only way to make headway. ‘The values I’ve striven for my entire career seem s…untenable in this present clime. But without them, what am I?’ Cap asks himself. There is a knock at Caps’ door, as a voice calls out ‘Yo, Cap! You in there? It’s me. Hawkeye. Or Goliath. Or just plain Clint. Whatever’ Cap’s old friend exclaims, but gets no response. Clint explains that he needs some advice deciding which costumed identity he should go with. ‘Cap?’ he calls out when he gets no response. Clint reminds himself that Peggy said Cap’s computer was online, so was probably here. But supposes that Cap left it on and slipped out.
That evening, in the auditorium, many chairs are set out in anticipation of a large audience for Cap’s seminar - but only the Black Widow, Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch are present. Natasha tells Clint and Wanda that she has never seen Steve so tense, so withdrawn, adding that she asked him to work out with her, but he flat turned her down. ‘You at least got him to speak to you. I think he’s been avoiding me all day’ Clint reveals. Wanda tells her friends that she hopes some of the others show up soon, as Steve is going to be awfully disappointed when he sees this poor turn out for his seminar. ‘Yeah, well, a lot of the guys had to - uh-oh. Here he comes’ Clint remarks as Cap approaches the podium on the stage.
Captain America stares down at the near-empty auditorium, he appears shaky. Clint breaks the silence by announcing that Wonder Man, Iron Man and most of the West Coast team had to get back to their business, and asked him to pass on their regrets. Natasha informs Cap that Hercules and the Black Knight went to fly Gilgamesh back to Europe, while Crystal is with her baby, and the Vision is looking into getting his skin fixed. ‘I get the picture, Natasha. You three are it’ Cap replies, while remarking that the ones who really need to hear his seminar are not here. He pauses, before deciding that this is pointless, and turns to leave. ‘Sorry I wasted all your time’ he tells his friends.
Clint, Wanda and Natasha look horrified. ‘Whoa!’ Clint exclaims, when suddenly, the front doors burst open. ‘Sorry I’m late! Did I miss anything?’ the new Thor enquires. ‘Oh, brother’ Wanda mutters. Soon, Wanda, Clint and Natasha go into the kitchen and have coffee sitting at the table. Natasha tells the others that they have to do something for Cap, as he is heading for a breakdown. ‘Like what can we do?’ Clint asks. Natasha suggests that, for starters, Clint take Cap for a night on the town. ‘Ya mean get him drunk? Ya gotta be -’ Clint exclaims, but Natasha tells him that she means he should talk to him man to man, try and dispel the gloom he is in. ‘You are one of his oldest friends here’ Natasha points out. ‘Yeah, but… cheering up depressed living legends ain’t one of my specialities’ Clint points out, muttering that he wishes the Falcon would get back.
Shortly, in Cap’s private quarters, where Cap is lying on his bed, arms behind his head, Clint suddenly, enters, ‘Okay, old timer. Enough moping around. You and me are going out!’ Clint exclaims. Cap replies that he can’t, as he needs to stay here, for he is waiting for word about some missing Avengers and missing support personnel, and wants to be here. ‘Get outta here! Peggy can beep you on your card wherever you are. Now come on, I ain’t taking no for an answer!’ Clint declares. Clint starts searching through Captain America’s chest of drawers, and throws some clothes at Cap, telling him to take off the Union Suit and to put these on. ‘Clint, I -’ Steve begins, but Clint leaps onto Cap’s bed and starts bouncing up and down. ‘I intend ta use yer bed as a trampoline till you get off that flabby red, white and blue backside of yers - think I care if jumping on the bed’s against the by-laws?’ Clint declares. Smiling, Cap tells Clint that he wins.
Somewhere in New Jersey, Crossbones and Diamondback are still in the car, as Diamondback assures Crossbones that she has told him everything she knows about Captain America already - his shoe size, what he likes to eat for breakfast, his unlisted extension, the kind of music he listens to. ’What more do you want from me?’ she asks him. ‘Heh heh, plenty more, Ratsel. Plenty more’ Crossbones replies. They pull into a gas station, as Crossbones tells Rachel that the junk she has told him would be great if he was writing a profile for people magazine, but it is nothing that is going to get him back in tight with the Red Skull. Rachel then asks him why they are at the gas station, and leading her out of the car, Crossbones leads her towards a payphone, instructing her to make a phone call to Captain America and tell him that she is spending a few weeks skiing with an old friend.
‘You say exactly that, with no mess-ups and I promise I’ll rustle you up some chow’ Crossbones tells her, warning Rachel that if she acts up, he will see her starve. ‘Okay’ Rachel replies, and in the Avengers HQ communications room, Peggy is on duty as always, when the call comes in: ‘This is Rachel Leighton. I’m skiing with an old friend of mine. Tell Cap he shouldn’t worry…’ is all she says. ‘Rachel? This is Peggy! Don’t hang up - Rachel?’ Peggy calls out, while a computer has signalled that it is tracing the call. Peggy Carter turns to the Black Widow and remarks that she should call Cap, as he has been waiting for word on Rachel, but Natasha instructs Peggy not to, as he needs one night away from all his problems. ‘But he -’ Peggy begins.
Natasha tells Peggy that she knows Cap is concerned about Rachel, but points out that the message she would be able to pass on is so sparse that it would only serve to agitate him further. Natasha then offers to get on a sky-cycle and check out the number, to see if Diamondback is okay. She then asks Peggy to off calling Cap until she reports back in. ‘Cap respects your judgment enough to have appointed you deputy leader, Natasha. All right’ Peggy replies.
On the Lower West Side, ‘Are we almost there yet? Or are you lost?’ Cao asks Clint, who replies that it has been a few years since he called this burg home, so cut him a little slack, before motioning to the Laughing Horse Bar in front of them and pointing out that they have arrived. ‘This…is your idea of a - a -’ Cap begins, ‘Of a bar. Year. Let’s go in. I’ll tell ya my theory’ Clint explains. Entering the bar, he points out that there are three kinds of bars - yuppie bars, lowlife bars and old men bars. ‘And what’s this?’ Steve asks. ‘A lowlife bar, of course! They’re the most fun!’ Clint exclaims. Hands in his jacket pocket, Cap tells Clint that he doesn’t know about this, as it is not really his kind of scene. ‘What’re you talking about, man? You used to always lecture me about training myself to adapt to any situation I happen to find myself in. Well? Were you just blowing smoke?’ Clint reminds Cap, who looks at him and asks where they should sit.
They find a table in the middle of the room, as a woman approaches them and asks ‘What’ll it be?’ Clint asks her for a pitcher of tap and two frosty mugs. ‘Come on, Clint. You know I don’t drink. I’m a role model for -’ Cap begins, but Clint interrupts him, ‘Not tonight you aren’t. Tonight you’re just a regular joe’ Clint declares. Men go about drinking and playing pool while the women watch them, as Cap tells Clint ‘But I’m not. I can’t even bring myself to pretend to be anymore, Clint’ and reveals that he realized some time ago that every time he has tried to put together a regular life for himself, it soon fell apart, until finally he realized that he had a choice to be a good Captain America or a lousy Steve Rogers. ‘Guess which I chose’.
Clint asks Cap if he doesn’t have any civilian friends anymore, to which Cap admits that they have mostly fallen by the wayside, that the Avengers and the HQ crew are the only people in his life right now. ‘And even they’re slipping away. The Avengers may not have voted me out this morning, but…as tonight’s seminar proved, I’ve lost the ability to inspire them’ Cap exclaims. Frowning, Clint slams his jug on the table, ‘If that’s what you think, then you oughtta quit, Steve! You’ll see how much they need you then!’ he shouts. Clint then suggests that he will quit too, and then the two of them can form their own team, and they will only let guys who have strong ethical principles like themselves join. ‘No, Clint. That’s…nuts. I’m not about to compete with the Avengers for criminals to fight and emergencies to handle’ Cap replies, so Clint suggests that Cap should take a leave of absence.
‘No, the Avengers need me - “Galactic Storm” has left our ranks very unstable’ he decides. Clint asks Cap why he doesn’t just put his own needs in front of others for once. ‘Listen to me, as your friend, I’m telling you, you need some time off from the grind. You’re heading for job burn-out’ Clint remarks. ‘If that happens, you’re gonna be no good to the Avengers or yourself’ he adds. Cap replies that he doesn’t know, to which Clint asks ‘There must be something you need to do, Steve. Just for yourself. Just to get back on an even keel’. Cap replies that actually there is - he was in this relationship with a woman, but he took things too slowly, never once let her know how he felt about her. ‘Then do something about it! Take her in your arms and tell her, man!’ Clint replies as he pours himself another beer. Cap explains that he can’t, as she is one of the missing people he mentioned earlier. ‘Oh’ Clint replies, while deciding that he is a fine one to give advice about relationships when his own marriage is on the rocks. ‘I oughtta practice what I preach’ he realizes.
‘If I could just -’ Cap begins, when suddenly, ‘STEVE!’ a voice calls out. Cap turns and sees a man in a suit enter the bar - it’s Tony Stark. ‘Here?’ Cap wonders, confused. Tony announces that Peggy told him where they were, and asks if he can join them. Tony sits down at the table and apologizes for missing the seminar, explaining that he had a lot of Star Enterprises business to attend to in LA, and he has just returned. Cap tells Tony that he was not expecting him anyway. ‘Right’ Tony replies, before telling Clint that he needs to speak to Steve alone, and asks him if he minds making himself scarce for a bit. ‘WHAT?’ Clint exclaims, before taking the pitcher of beer and his mug, and muttering that he feels like shooting some pool anyway. He gets up and goes over to one of the pool tables.
Tony tells Steve that their relationship has been on the rocks for much too long, and that, if possible, he would like to clear the air. Cap asks Tony if he wants a drink, and Tony replies that he would like a diet coke, before suggesting they start where it went sour - his “Armor Wars”. ‘Where you broke into a government penitentiary…caused a jailbreak…we fought…you sucker-punched me and ran…promising me an explanation for the necessity of your actions when it was all over’ Cap reminds Tony, pointing out that instead, he publicly blamed his outrageous behavior on a renegade Iron Man. Cap reminds Tony that when he sent word he wanted to see him, he didn’t try to explain one blessed thing. ‘You just aid that we were likely to play on the same team at some point in the future, so we’d better call a truce to our differences’.
‘You didn’t even try to justify your criminal actions! I was so stunned, I couldn’t even press you on it’ Cap reminds Tony as he recalls the encounter. Tony calmly explains that things got out of hand, that once he started trying to confiscate all of his stolen technology, he just became so obsessed he had to pursue it to its logical end. ‘I knew you could never understand that - you don’t believe that the ends justify the means - so I didn’t even bother’ Tony remarks, adding that, in retrospect, he should have at least tried. ‘That begins us to the events of the past few weeks’ Cap announces, reminding Tony that he surrendered their team of Avengers to the Kree Militia, without consulting him, the team leader. ‘The decision to gamble with our lives was not one you should have made unilaterally’ Cap tells Tony.
‘Yes I know it happened to work out in our favor’ Cap agrees, before reminding Tony that Sersi pulled their far out of the fire, then Tony got angry with the way she did it, he decided to go his separate way, the heck with the rest of them. Tony explains that he could not have Sersi mess with his armor again, as it is not only his source of power, but his life support. Head hanging, Steve tells Tony that, finally, Iron Man was one of the ringleaders of the Avengers “execution squad”, who stormed off to terminate the Supreme Intelligence. Tony tells Cap that he truly believes that conventional standards of morality are inapplicable in times of war, but Cap replies that it was not their decision to make, and points out that the Supreme Intelligence should have been put on trial like the war criminals after World War II. ‘You left out that I abandoned you on the Kree homeworld to go after the Nega-Bomb’ Tony points out. Cap replies that he can understand that decision, for he would have made the same one.
Elsewhere, the Black Widow has arrived at the gas station, and picks up the phone that Diamondback called Avengers HQ from - but there is no sign of Diamondback. Natasha decides to ask the station attendant if he saw anything.
Twenty miles away, Crossbones has parked the stolen car and leads Diamondback into some woods. ‘Cross - I did what you said! What are you doing? Where are you taking me?’ Rachel asks him. ‘Right here, toots’ Crossbones replies as he opens the trap-door, built into the ground, explaining that it is a former fall-out shelter where Magneto imprisoned the Red Skull some months back. Crossbones tells Rachel that he doesn’t know how Magneto found it, but that she can bet her bottom that Magneto figured it was a good place to stick somebody he didn’t want disturbed. Crossbones picks up the rope he left here last time, and instructs Rachel to climb down. Rachel tells him that she doesn’t think she is strong enough to, so Crossbones tells her to climb down, or fall down.
Shortly, Rachel is lying on the floor of the shelter, ‘Hah! A mere ten foot drop. Nothing to it, huh?’ Crossbones calls out as he climbs down the rope and shines a torch down on Rachel. When he lands on the floor, he shines the torch into a corner, and tells Rachel to look around, explaining that this is their new home. ‘We’re going to be sending a lot of time down here, you and me…down here in our hidey-hole, I’m going to become your best friend…I’m going to teach you how to be exactly like me…I’m gonna teach you the toughness you need to survive’ he explains. ‘No…’ Rachel utters. Crossbones remarks that it is funny, after all these years, she finally gets what she wants - he is finally going to let her join his gang.
Back in Manhattan, Tony explains that after the bomb exploded and they were revived from that weird thing Sersi did to them, he looked around in a daze, and thought “Where’s Cap?”, before recalling that he was still on Hala - probably dead. ‘You may choose to disbelieve this if you want, but that thought made me…I…look, I’m not the crying kind, Steve. I didn’t even cry at my own father’s funeral’ Tony states, before telling him that right then and there, he realized then and there that in this crazy business they are in, there is no one he would miss more than Cap. ‘And I …well…you’re an inspiration to me, Steve. To a lot of us. We may not think like you or act like you - but we still respect you and appreciate what you do and the way you do it’ he assures him.
Tony continues, stating that Cap is an idealist in a world that is far from ideal. ‘I don’t know how you can do it, Steve…how you can keep all the ugliness from getting to you… hardening you… I can’t. I’m not as perfect as you…forgive me’ Tony asks. ‘Tony… I’m not perfect either. I’m sometimes to quick to judge…to slow to forgive’ Cap admits, telling Tony that he appreciates how much courage it took to come here - in a bar of all places - and to level with him just like he did. He adds that he is sorry their ideological differences bent their friendship out of shape. ‘I miss having you as my friend’ he tells him. Cap and Tony shake hands as Cap tells Tony that hr would like them to let bygones be bygones. ‘So would I’ Tony replies as he gets up to leave. Cap goes over to Clint who has finished a game of pool and tells him that Tony left, so he is going back to the Mansion. ‘Hold on, I’ll go with you… soon as Fats here pays up’ Clint replies as a man in a suit hands over some money.
Shortly, at Avengers HQ, Cap and Clint return, and Cap shouts ‘USAgent!’ as he sees John Walker up ahead. ‘About time you came crawling in, Rogers’ Walker mutters. Cap then asks ‘Where’s the Falcon? Where’s -?’, as Walker tells him that they are around the corner. Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon and Dennis “D-Man” Dunphy enter the room, ‘Steve!’ the Falcon calls out to his friend. ‘Dennis!’ Steve exclaims, as he sees D-Man, now in a tall, muscular form. ‘What’s happened to you? I thought you’d - to heck with what I thought! It’s really great to see you, man!’ Cap smiles. Clint smiles seeing Cap so happy, and decides that if this doesn’t yank Cap out of his funk, nothing will. Clint turns to Walker and tells him that he did good for once, before asking what took so long, as he thought they were missing in action.
‘Hey, Barton, we had a lot of Ultimatum agents to take into custody, then we developed engine trouble - aah, why am explaining it to you?’ Walker frowns. Sam tells Steve that his friend is really out of it, that whatever happened to him in the arctic must have traumatized him. Steve announces that he will get Dennis the best medical attention available, before turning to Walker: ‘Agent…?’ he calls out. ‘Yeah?’ Walker replies. ‘Thanks. I owe you, pal’ Cap tells USAgent, shaking his hand. ‘Him - calling me “pal”?’ Walker thinks to himself, surprised. Cap smiles, and wonders if things will work out for him yet. ‘Maybe in the words of Lennon / McCartney… I’ll get by with a little help from my friends’.