Phil Sheldon is at Long Island Oncology Associates and about to receive his test results. Dr. Geoffries gives him some bad news. Phil's cancer has metastasized and spread through his system. Phil, seated with his wife Doris standing behind him, doesn’t get it. He feels tired, but... He asks how much time he has left.
The doctor informs him maybe three months, possibly as many as eighteen, but frankly he wouldn't bet on that. They can make him comfortable, but there's not much else they can do. Doris leans in towards Phil and hugs him. What do you do when you're given a death sentence? What do you say? Doris wonders if maybe it's time to go to Florida, find that place near the beach. The sun might help. "No," replies Phil. "No." He reckons he's beaten this before and kept going.
(later, at home)
Phil is with his family, Doris and his two daughters, Beth and Jenny. He's looking for a photograph, and Beth finds the one he's after. Phil has a book to finish, and there's nothing like staring death in the face to help you focus. He runs through some work that he's done and tries to add more words, but he soon finds that the meds he's taking make it hard for him to think. He knows that he needs to concentrate or he won't finish the book before the cancer finishes him.
His family looks on, anxious, as he pulls himself together. A television news report comes through about how the Hulk's latest rampage has come to an end. Dianne Bellamy aims her face at the camera and informs the viewing public that it took a dozen of the world's mightiest heroes, the Avengers, to finally subdue the Hulk, only not until the town of Jericho had been destroyed. Miraculously, she adds, there has been no loss of life, but the walls of Jericho have come tumbling down. Now, the good people of the town are asking, why their town? Why did we have to lose our homes, our schools and our businesses? Why couldn't the Avengers arrive sooner?
Watching, Phil wishes she’d get some new material. It never seems to change. One minute the world cheers on their heroes; the next they are savaging them. He wishes he was leaving a better world for the girls, not just more money which the book will help with.
Jenny drives Phil along the freeway. She’s new to this and a little nervous. As she concentrates on the road, a police call comes through on the radio asking for all units to converge on LaGuardia Airport. There is a mutant incident in progress. Jenny says that it’s the next exit. Phil reacts like an old warhorse hearing the bugle. They soon arrive at the scene and witness the original X-Men, including Beast and Iceman, fighting some maniac named Tower, saving lives again. Not that it mattered. To some people, mutants were alike and all of ‘em are guilty. Who cares what they did? They were mutants!
When Phil gets home he develops the photo which looks pretty good - one of his best. He’d heard there was a new group of mutants calling themselves X-Factor making money off people’s fears about mutants. The depths some people will sink to. He admires the photo, not realizing that it is the last action photo he will ever take.
Doris pops in and asks if he’s okay. She says he’s fine and asks for some tea. He’s been thinking about Doris a lot lately, and the girls. He was so lucky to find her, but Doris… she deserved better. All those times he wasn’t there, all the things he missed because he was somewhere else taking pictures… all those years, all those pictures. When he’s gone will anyone give a damn? And would anything ever change?
He watches television again, seeing coverage of the demonstrations outside Avengers Mansion against the Sub-Mariner’s inclusion on the team. Footage is shown of Namor during the war, and the reporter mentions that he has been a polarizing figure over the years. Once upon a time, Phil would have been in the middle of that mob, getting jostled, jostling back, fighting for position and feeling the adrenaline, getting the good shots; the money shots. Part of him still itches to be out there. He feels his heart pump faster and his fingers twitch to hold a camera. But the rest of him… the rest of him is just tired. So tired.
What energy he has he puts into his book. He had to find a way to say it, to make it matter. He sits at his desk and flicks through some pictures. “Some call the ‘Children of the Atom,’ the next stop in evolution. Others, giving in to their… to our worst fears, call them freaks… muties. But the X-Men have come to our defense again and again.” A television broadcast interrupts his train of thought. He looks up and sees the X-Men from the airport in action. The reporter, Trish Tilby, calls them X-Terminators, a bunch of unknown mutants fighting back against the rise in anti-mutant hysteria. “What?” barks Phil, incredulously. He doesn’t believe it. X-Terminators? Unknown? He wonders what’s wrong with the reporter. Don’t they know anything?
A voice tells him that she’d like to think a few of them do. He turns to see Doris standing there with Marcia. She asks him if he has a few minutes for his old apprentice. He replies that for her he has. He tells her that he caught her documentary where she interviewed Willie Lumpkin, the FF’s mailman. Charming piece, he says, and then he asks her what brought her out there. She informs him that Doris called and said he was up against a deadline. She thought she’d drop by and offer an extra set of hands. Phil admits that he could use a little help, but he wouldn’t want to take her away from her own work. Lord knows the tube needs more people with her skills, not like that Tilby woman on Channel 4. He swears she never seems to do any research. He holds up the pictures of the original X-Men and the X-Terminators and asks her to look and see if she recognizes anyone. Marcia sees what he means. They’re a little older and the costumes are different, but still…
Doris tells Phil that it’s time for his pills, and whispers to him that she wishes he wouldn’t get so upset. It doesn’t do him a bit of good. Marcia comments on some of his work and remarks that she never knew that the Avengers’ Beast was the one from the X-Men. “Most people don’t,” he replies. Doris picks up the phone and discovers J. Jonah Jameson on the other end. He only calls Phil when he wants something, and this time is no different.
Phil arrives at the Daily Bugle and is greeted by Robbie Robertson who asks how he is. Phil says he's getting by and then introduces him to Jenny. He then asks why Jonah asked for unpublished photos of costumed mutants. Some new feature? Robbie is surprised that Jonah had called him. He explains that Jonah had a dispute with X-Factor and has been talking expose ever since. He adds that Warren Worthington is the money man behind X-Factor which makes Phil gasp. "Worthington's the Angel!" he exclaims. Why would he bankroll mutant hunters? It beats Robbie. He reckons that by tomorrow Jonah will have figured out that they're all in league with Spider-Man. Phil grunts and reckons he doesn't have any photos for Jonah after all. He never did see the point in smearing someone just to make a buck. That's that weasel Parker's game anyway. Robbie thinks Parker's okay really.
Robbie has things to do so Phil leaves, but he isn't ready to go home just yet. He heads for the Masthead Restaurant with his family and they order some food. Phil sits opposite his daughters, wondering where the time went. They're practically young ladies now. The last time they were there, he recalls, Count Nefaria had just taken Washington hostage and tried to frame the X-Men for it. Luckily, they turned the tables on him and saved the entire city. Cap? Iron Man? They'd have thrown them a parade. They're 'our kind.' But not the X-Men. Not then, not now. The X-Men fight for them and what do they do? They throw bricks at them.
Phil recalls little Maggie, a mutant girl that his daughters took in during the first big anti-mutant panic. She was just a little girl, but the neighbors would have torched the house if they'd known Maggie was there. He didn't know what to do, but Maggie did. She left Doris a note thanking her for everything but said she didn't want her family to get hurt. Who knows, thinks Phil. Maybe she saved them all, and what did they do for her?
At that moment, a reporter named Anderson bursts through the door and shouts to two colleagues seated inside. He tells them to grab their tape recorders and go. There's a big fuss in Central Park and Avengers' Mansion has been swallowed up by some big cube. Phil turns and asks what's going on, but Doris asks him to sit down. Jenny grabs her father's arm and assures her mother that it's all right. She'll accompany her father.
They head towards Central Park with Phil wondering what he was thinking. Something for the book, for the papers, or maybe just reflex. Something was happening and he wanted to see it; get the facts and show the world. A police officer prevents them from getting too close to the park and tells Phil that if he wants pictures he should take them now. Phil so much wants to but his arms are weak and his hands are shaking. He can't even lift his damned camera. Jenny offers to take the picture for him, but he pauses, turns and says that they need to get her mother and Bethie and go home.
Phil lies in bed, half asleep, thinking about how all he can do is sleep when the Masters of Evil have taken over Avengers Mansion, leaving Hercules in hospital. It’s the story of the year. He gets up a little later and reads Celebrity Magazine. The world is still turning and photos are taken without him. Doris notes the sour look on his face and asks what’s wrong. Phil shows her the magazine; an article about the dedication of Four Freedoms Plaza. He’s seen better work in high school yearbooks. Doris agrees. His pictures are always better. She still remembers the wonderful pictures he took of Reed and Susan Richards’ wedding. Phil reckons he should have been at that dedication, and would have if not for his cancer. He’s a one-eyed, broken-down old shutterbug. They should bury him right now. He asks for some help getting up. He has work to do.
Phil moves to his table and does some work on his new book. He wants to finish it before everything becomes ancient history. Some of his old photos were already beating him into the obituaries. A newspaper on his desk reads ‘Angel dies in fiery explosion.’ A news then report comes on television about the notorious mutant terrorist Magneto who has surrendered to U.N. officials in Singapore. He will be bound over for trial before the World Court. Phil gasps and immediately picks up the phone. It’s Tracey Burke, asking him if he’s heard the news. She thinks he did such a great job for them on the Rocky Mountain story, that she’d like him to fly to Paris to cover the trial. She tells him that he could take Doris with him; all expenses paid. She needs Phil Sheldon.
The news report comes in live from Paris, where the Avengers are escorting a contingent of X-Men into the Palais de Justice. A special tribunal of the International Court of Justice will soon begin to determine the fate of Magneto who stands accused of crimes against humanity. On the television, Captain Marvel, Thor, Captain America, Dr. Druid and the Black Knight can be seen keeping the angry crowd at arms length whilst Storm, Wolverine, Havok, Dazzler, Magneto and Rogue head for the entrance.
Phil sits at home. Tracey Burke had to find someone else. Phil has stayed behind and watches events unfold on television. He’s a part of the audience now, not a newsman. Phil watches Havok and Dazzler pass by the camera. These aren’t even the X-Men he knew. These mutants seem somehow scarier, more confident. Wolverine? Now there was a reassuring name. Storm, with her Mohawk hair and leather outfit… this new generation of X-Men... were they naturally that way? Could you blame people for being scared of them, or was it a reaction to all they’ve had to endure? In the end, he thinks, what the hell difference does it make?
Doris appears by his side and he tries to sit up, annoyed that he’s missing another story. Doris says it’s okay, but Phil replies that it isn’t. It’s the trial of the century and all he can do is watch it on television like everyone else. He struggles and she asks if he’s okay. “Tired… just tired,” he whispers as he slumps back into the chair. Doris calls Dr. Geoffries who asks her to take Phil to the hospital. Phil says no.
The next day he can’t even get out of bed, so he ends up in hospital anyway. A reporter on television tells the world that New York Mammoths coach Jim Albertson has announced his retirement, but Phil’s not interested. He wants to get something down in writing. He looks at a photograph of Sentinels flying over the city and spins a line about how Spider-Man and the X-Men, for instance, put their lives on the line constantly, even in the face of dangers they created themselves. He doesn’t like his wording and changes things around. “People… the world, haven’t treated them fairly, and neither has life.” Phil admits that he probably obsesses about them because he’s thinking about himself. Life’s not fair on any of them, but the Marvels… they kept going. They were still fighting, while he…
His thoughts are interrupted by the appearance of his beloved daughters, Jenny and Beth. Phil is delighted to see them, and Jenny informs him that they’ve found the files he wanted. Beth gives him a kiss and he tells Jenny that’s great. They’ve both been such a help. Beth tells him that at school she gave a talk about his first book for her social studies class. She got an A. He asks what else has been going on. Beth mentions a boy that Jenny likes and Jenny gets all coy. Doris asks them not to tire their father out and asks Jenny to take her sister to the cafeteria for a snack. They get up and leave the room, telling their daddy that they love him.
On television, it is reported that Crystal, the Inhuman, is joining the Fantastic Four. Phil switches it off. He’s tired and can’t be bothered with it. Doris looks at the photos in his hands and wonders how many he’s taken over the years. Phil reckons it must be thousands, hundreds of thousands? A whole lot of paper. He finally snaps, throwing the photos from his bed. He says that this is what he’s done with his life. He took a bunch of pictures. Big deal! Somebody else would have done it if he hadn’t. Hell, somebody else is now! “What kind of legacy is this?” he asks himself. Doris rests her head on his chest and assures him that it’s a great legacy. He’s touched so many people with his work; made them stop, and think. And he’s made her and the girls so very happy.
Phil raises a smile and replies that it’s nice of her to say so. He apologizes for whining and asks her to take the girls to get some coffee while he rests. He has his call button if he needs anything. She puts the television back on, quietly, just in time for a news roundup with Megan McClaren substituting for Javon Garrett.
Megan reports that Presidential envoy Valerie Cooper spoke in San Francisco yesterday on the government’s latest answer to the mutant question. Val begins to talk about Freedom Force and the Registration Act, but Phil’s attentions turn to a hooded stranger entering through the hospital window. “Mister Sheldon,” the stranger says. Phil reaches for his glasses and asks if it’s Doris. “Uh, no sir,” she replies, removing her hood, “It’s… it’s me.”
“Maggie!” exclaims Phil.