Summary: On the anniversary of September 11th, an Avenger reflects on the tragedy and the nature of patriotism and heroism.
Universe: Marvel Universe AU
Disclaimer: Marvel owns 'im. Not profit is made on my part. I'm just paying respects.
Notes: I'm sure a lot of people will find this to be crass, since I'm using a comic book character to comment on the 9/11 event. Let it be known that I am not attempting to trivialize anything. Just the opposite, in fact. I know that writing a story like this is a walk on eggshells, and that it can easily be handled badly. But superheroes have always been about the essence of the best in humanity. We saw both the best and the worst last year on this day, and that dichotomy is what makes a good story. As I writer, I choose to deal with the tragedy and the anniversary by writing about it. My choice of character, Captain America, is the one whom I feel is the most fitting. This should effect him to the very core. I hope I do this story justice. I've made this AU because I'm not sure how this story would tie into recent comics continuity, and it seems better left unencumbered by continuity.
In a matter of hours, I will be expected to give speeches.
It's my duty as an American, and more specifically, as Captain America.
One year ago, early in the morning, a series of hijacked passenger jets were flown to various key U.S. targets. One hit the Pentagon. Another attempted to fly to the East Coast, but only made it as far as a field in Pittsburgh thanks to a pilot's sacrifice.
And two of them hit and collapsed the World Trade Center in New York, resulting in an unparalleled loss of life. Over three thousand people. And only a small percentage of the bodies were recovered and identified.
Almost everyone resembers where he or she was when the news of the tragedy was learned. I certainly do. I was across the ocean on covert business for Nick Fury and SHIELD. Nick himself gave me the news and arranged for an immediate flight back to the states. But nobody was sure how to talk to me or approach me at a time like that. They weren't sure how you tell the guy who embodies the spirit of an entire nation that his country had been stabbed while his back was turned.
Truthfully, it was a difficult thing to react to. All kinds of emotions welled up, from grief, to anger, to helplessness . . . and everything in between. This was something that shouldn't have happened. Something that I was created to prevent.
Therein lies the irony: I first received the super soldier serum back before America entered World War II to combat the Axis Powers. The Nazi threat. And of course, having been turned from a frail boy to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed pinnacle of human ability meant I was a perfect human against a Master Race. I was what the Nazis strived to be, and they never let me forget that. So during the War, I put everything I had into turning the tide of battle toward the Allies' favor. I tried to save lives and prevent death where I could, but the first rule of war is that people die. And the survivors are changed forever.
I spent so much time overseas doing everything I could for my country, but when I went missing in action toward the end of the war, I still wonder how many people actually cared. The war was in the Allies' favor. The Nazis were losing. I had outlived my usefulness. My last memory of the war was losing my partner -- my best friend -- in the line of duty. Fire claimed him. Ice claimed me.
I awoke in a world populated by beings more powerful and bizarre than I'd known in my time. Decades had passed. But my return was hailed a triumph in a country that worshipped heroes. Since my duty is to serve the people, I set my own inner demons and grief aside, and only tended to them in private. I was needed once again, but I was reminded more and more of how obsolete I was becoming. I was like Winston Churchill: brilliant and useful in wartime, but a relic in peacetime, now that few dared to challenge the United States and the wars in which it participated satisfied obscure political agendas instead of national principles.
There's where the aforementioned irony came in: the attack on the nation came at the height of peacetime, and when I was needed, I was in another country. Then I was no longer a relic of a wartime era long past, but a hero whom the country needed to restore its patriotism. But even if I had been there, what could I have done? Avert the jets' paths with my bare hands? Many considered the very idea that a superhero like myself should be concerned at all to be vulgar and unsympathetic. I was relentlessly hounded by the media, and I was forced to explain why I was absent when I was needed most.
Instead of resorting to petty defensiveness by retorting that I was exactly where a nation that previously considered me obsolete wanted me to be, I replied, "those who could have done the most good in that situation were there. The firefighters, police, rescue workers . . . they were there when they were needed. Ordinary people who pitched in were there when they were needed. Those who gave blood. They all proved that heroism does not require costumes or powers, only a need to go above and beyond the humanly possible to accomplish what is necessary to help. Heroism requires a lack of selfishness, and an abundance of caring. No one is isolated, and this tragedy which was designed to tear us apart, actually brought us together as people. We were attacked by a group with a grudge against us as a nation, but humanity is all that really matters."
It was a nice speech, but it didn't convince everyone. Nor did I expect it to. It came from a person that few people see as human anymore. And I suppose I'm separated from humanity on a fundamental basis. I lead a group of superheroes. My work clothes are chain mail under a form-fitting uniform of red, white, and blue. One of my most valued colleagues is a Thunder God, and my best friend is an ex-thief.
Regardless, I'm still human. I'm still a New Yorker, born and raised. I live in an apartment where I watch the news and sporting events. I endure loud music from my neighbors, and occasionally drown them out with '40s music. I go to baseball games and play poker with my friends. I enjoy movies ranging from war (to the surprise of no one) to romantic comedy (to the surprise of everyone). At the end of the day, no matter what I wear, or what name I call myself, I'm still Steve Rogers, and my humanity is important to me.
My humanity is what allowed me to be shocked by the September 11th tragedies, and is what allowed me to grieve for the departed. But I mourn best in private, but my public life has required me to be in the spotlight more and more as the anniversary draws near.
Soon, I will give speech, flanked by my fellow Avengers, in a public ceremony at the now-clear Ground Zero. Even now, my mind is running through what I'll say. I haven't prepared a speech because then I will address the head-knowledge of the event, instead of speaking from the heart. So I try to put the thoughts of the speech out of my head for now.
It's a minute to midnight on September 10th. In another minute, the day of the anniversary will begin. I make my way toward the building site where so many people died, not as Captain America . . . but as Steve Rogers. Right now, I'm not a superhero, but a New Yorker in a trenchcoat. A soldier, above all.
I survey the landscape, fighting the welling tears, and I take a cleansing breath.
It's midnight. I raise my right hand to my brow in a reverent tribute to those who died unaware, and to those who gave their lives so that others might survive.
And I salute them.