December 23, 2:30 PM
New York City
The car pulled up in front of the post office. A man got out. The postmaster walked up and greeted them. He was a short, balding man, and was gradually losing the battle of the bulge.
"Captain America, I'm so glad you could come. It's been a long time since you've done this. But, might I ask where your teammates are?"
"They should be arriving right about . . . now," Cap replied.
Just then, Flash came running up, and Iron Man descended from the sky.
"Everyone else was busy with their own holiday traditions," Cap explained. "So, it's only going to be the three of us."
"Well, let's come on in out of the cold," the postmaster said. The four walked into the post office, and continued walking past the main area where most civilians are allowed to go. They finally stopped when they reached a room with the Avengers League icon on it. The postmaster opened it, and let the door swing open. The room was stuffed - wall to wall, floor to ceiling - with letters, all addressed to the Avengers League.
"Holy . . . " Flash whispered in awe.
"It's been so long, we had to throw away some of the mail. We had hoped that someone would continue the tradition while the League was disbanded, but no one came. When we learned of your reforming, we made sure to have it ready for you this year."
"Yes, thank you," Cap said. "We appreciate it."
"Well, I'll leave you three alone. You have a lot to do."
The postmaster left and closed the door.
"Cap, I completely forgot how much mail we used to get," Iron Man said. "There's no way we can get through all of this."
"I don't plan to," Cap replied. "Most of it is probably junk from people wanting business propositions. No, we are here to help those who need it."
"Let's get started," Flash said.
"Hand me a bag . . . " Cap sighed.
Captain America looked at the piles of mail. Sacks and sacks of it. The Avengers League routinely received thousands of letters every week. It reminded Cap of a similar situation, which used to occur with the Justice Society back in the 1940s. They used to get a mountain of mail every day as well. It seems not everything has changed, he thought. People still need their heroes.
The vast amount of mail should have made Cap proud and happy. But it didn't. In fact, it made him depressed. The sad fact was that most of these letters were requests for help from people all over the world. Some of them were valid problems, some were just silly, but each request was heartfelt. It was a source of great sadness to Cap that the League could not help the most of these people. There just weren't enough hours in a day to help everyone in the world who needed help. Captain America wished he could help everyone, and knowing he couldn't haunted him.
This being Christmas, the amount of mail had increased drastically. At this time of year, people looked for miracles. Cap, as he often did, took a look at a few letters. In fact, due to it being the holidays, he read more than usual. He hoped that he could help more people this month than he normally gets the chance to.
After about twenty minutes of reading letters, he spotted one that really struck him. It was a request for Cap to visit the home of a dying man. That wasn't unusual. But what was unusual was that the letter came from someone who was familiar to Cap from years past. The man Cap knew as the Black Spider, a criminal who Cap and other heroes had thwarted back in World War 2. He was now asking Captain America, a man he had once tried to kill, to come to him on his deathbed. It was very strange and very nervy. But Cap was very curious. What did the Black Spider want from him after all these years? Cap decided to answer the summons and visit his old foe.
Cap arrived at the tenement where the Black Spider lived. It was a run down old building in an impoverished section of the city. Cap rang the bell with the name Stuart on it. Roger Stuart. The Black Spider.
A middle-aged woman answered the door. She was surprised to see Captain America at her door. Her jaw dropped.
"Hello," Cap said. "I'm looking for Roger Stuart."
"Come in," she said, watching Cap intently.
There was a ten-year-old girl playing in the room. She saw Cap.
"Hi," she said. "I'm Sheila. Are you a superhero?"
"Hello, Sheila. Yes, I am a superhero. I'm Captain America."
"Do you know Wonder Woman?"
"Yes, I do."
"She's my favorite."
"I don't blame you," Cap said. "She's a great woman."
The mother intervened. "Sheila, would you go into the other room for a minute? I want to talk to the Captain."
The little girl walked out. "Goodbye, mister."
The mother looked at Cap. "Captain. I know who my father used to be. I know all about the Black Spider. I don't excuse him. But my father is very old and very sick. He's dying. Please don't harass him."
"I didn't come here to harass him," Cap said. "He wrote me a letter asking me to come here."
He showed her the letter. She read it, then she pointed to the bedroom. "He's in there. Please don't upset him."
Cap walked into the bedroom. He saw a frail, thin, sickly old man lying in a bed. He looked up at Cap and offered a weak smile. "Captain America," he whispered. "I didn't really believe you'd come."
"I'm not exactly sure why I did. What did you want to see me about?"
"I'm dying, Captain."
"So you told me in the letter. I'm sorry."
"That doesn't matter," the old man said. "I don't matter. What matters is my granddaughter, Sheila."
"I don't follow you," Cap said.
"She doesn't know about me," the old man said. "Not yet. But someday, she's bound to find out. I'm not proud of what I did in the past, but that was a long time ago. I've been on the straight and narrow for many years now. After I got out of prison, I married and had a daughter. You just met her. She grew up to find out about me and didn't talk to me for many years after. Finally she forgave me, but she still has resentment for me. Disappointment. And shame. It may have affected her life, and her marriage. I don't want that to happen to Sheila. One day, when she finds out, I don't want her to be psychologically screwed up. And more than that, I don't want her to hate me. After I'm gone, I want her to have good memories of me."
"What does this have to do with me?" Cap asked.
"I want you to lie to her," the man said.
Cap looked surprised.
The old Black Spider continued. "Please talk to her. Tell her something good about me. Once she gets older, she'll hear about what a great hero you are. About what a great hero you were in the old days, and still are. You're a legend. When you talk, people believe you. And because you're trusted, I want you to lie to her."
"You realize how hypocritical that is, don't you?" Cap asked.
"I do," the old man said weakly. "But please, do this. Tell her something good. Twist the real story around. Add in some little white lies. Maybe you could tell her I was an undercover good guy all that time. Something. Anything. Just find a way to keep her from hating me when she gets older and learns the truth. Whatever else she may hear about me, she'll always be able to remember that the greatest hero of all, Captain America, put in a good word for me."
Cap sat undecided.
"Please," the old man begged. "Grant an old man's dying wish. I know I haven't earned it. But I love my granddaughter. And this is all I can leave her."
Cap sighed and nodded. The old man grabbed Cap's hand. "Thank you, Captain. You really are a great hero."
Cap left the room. The mother looked at him. She nodded at him. Cap gave her a polite smile. He saw little Sheila in the other room. He went over to the little girl. "Hi, Sheila."
"Hi, mister," she said. "Do you want to play with me?"
"Sure I do," Cap said, sitting down with her. "And maybe we can talk about your grandpa. I knew him a long time ago."
While Captain America was gone, Iron Man and Flash continued to read through the letters. They also began sorting them into several piles: one for junk mail, one for urgent business that Cap could attend to when he returned, one for fan mail that they would take back to their teammates, etc.
Iron Man came across one, however, that he couldn't put into a pile. It seemed so urgent to him that he decided he must take care of it himself.
"I'll let you know what happened when I get done with this, Flash," Iron Man said as he rushed out of the room. His repulsors lit up as he took off into the sky.
The content of the letter went through Iron Man's head.
Iron Man's GPS system directed him as he flew toward the address specified in the letter. Finally he arrived at a ranch-style house on the end of a quiet street in the shadow of a towering steel mill. Tony had visited a lot of factories in his career, but he had not spent a lot of time in the towns that usually existed around them.
The street was pretty cheery, with holiday decorations up on the houses. One house did not have as many decorations as the others. Iron Man's sensors picked up the sound of hammering and arc welding from the garage of the house.
As Iron Man walked toward the house, he noticed that this was the address from which the boy's letter had come.
Iron Man knocked on the door. A seven-year-old boy answered the door.
"Dad! Dad! He came! He answered my Christmas wish in my letter!"
"Hello there," Iron Man said. "You must be Seth Peters, the one who wrote me the Christmas letter."
"Yeah! Come on and meet my dad! He's in his garage!"
The boy led Iron Man through a relatively clean but humble house toward the back yard. There was a rather large shed out in the yard, from which Iron Man could hear the sound of a hammer pounding against metal.
Seth knocked on the door of the shed and then opened it. A lean, middle-aged man stood in a grease-covered shirt and a pair of jeans. He wiped some sweat from his brow.
"What do you need, Seth . . . jeez!" The dad caught sight of Iron Man.
"Hello!" He put out his hand and Iron Man shook it gently. "Ron Peters, nice to meet you, Iron Man. My son was talking about you coming to meet me, but I thought it was just another one of his daydreams!"
"Pleased to meet you. You building something there, Mr. Peters?"
Mr. Peters was a little embarrassed. "Oh, it's nothing special, really."
Seth ran over to what looked like a battlesuit made of steel and scrap metal. The materials were rough, but Mr. Peters had crafted a rather decent-looking suit. Strapped to the back of the suit was a flamethrower-like device, which seemed to be controlled by circuitry in the gauntlets.
"It's dad's battlesuit!" Seth said, running over to show it off. "It's just like yours, Iron Man, but I don't think he has any lasers in it yet."
"Wow!" Iron Man exclaimed. "Most guys build cabinets and stuff in their workshops . . . you put Tim the Tool Man to shame with that!"
"Aw, it's nothing special, just something to pass the time. Time is all I have nowadays."
"Don't you work over at the mill?"
Peters frowned. Seth looked very sad. Iron Man had said something that touched a very deep nerve.
"I used to work over at the mill. I got laid off, along with about fifty other decent workers, about a month ago. I've looked for work, but the mill is the center of the town around here. Not too many other places to work, you know? "
"I'm sorry," Iron Man replied. "I didn't mean to bring it up."
"Fifteen years I put into that place. A lot of product going out there showing my attention to quality, and my dedication. And they lay me off, just like that. You know what I want to do the most?" Peters walked over to the suit and started looking as if he was going to put it on. "I'm going to put this on, and go over to that mill, and show them a thing or two . . . "
"That wouldn't solve anything, Mr. Peters. If the police caught you, who would take care of Seth?"
"It would give me some satisfaction. It would pay them back for what they did to me, and this town."
"You know, I can't say that I have ever had to face not having a job. Tony Stark has me pretty set up for life," Iron Man mused. "But you have a lot of skills. Maybe I can talk to my employer and see if he has anything open for a metallurgist."
"Would we have to leave town?" There was a little bit of sadness in Mr. Peters' eyes.
"I would think so. The closest plant Stark Enterprises has is outside of New York City. Given your situation, I'll suggest that Stark offer you some relocation money."
"My family has been in this town for two generations . . . but there's nothing left here if I can't get work." He shook Iron Man's hand again. "I'll take it! It would get me out of the house and working with metal again."
Peters went over to his workshop table and got a piece of paper. "You have my address, otherwise you wouldn't have come to visit." He wrote his telephone number on the scrap of paper. "If Mr. Stark, or whoever does the hiring, wants to give me a call, I'm here all day."
"I'll give him the number," Iron Man replied.
For the next hour or so, Iron Man examined the design of the Argent Avenger armor, and then Seth showed him some of his airplane and spaceship models. Iron Man showed Seth and Mr. Peters some of his own suit's features.
It was finally time to leave. "Happy Holidays, Mr. Peters," Iron Man said as he prepared to lift off into the sky.
"Happy Holidays, Iron Man," Mr. Peters and Seth said.
Iron Man flew back toward New York feeling better than before. He knew, however, that the steel mill layoffs had hurt more people than Mr. Peters - but if Iron Man had helped to redirect just one man's energy toward furthering his talents rather than destroying someone out of revenge, then he had done some good in the end.
December 23, 5:00 PM
New York City
Captain America and Iron Man returned about the same time. They found that Flash had finished sorting most of the mail. He was down to the last five sacks.
"I see you have a system worked out," Cap commented. "Nice."
"Yes," Flash replied. "We put the junk mail in that corner. Over the other corner are outdated requests. And the rest . . . " He sighed.
"Did you run across anything special?" Iron Man asked.
Flash held up the letter in his hand. "As a matter of fact, I did." He looked up sheepishly at his teammates. "I guess this one's mine, huh?"
"If you feel you must . . . " Cap said.
"Oh, I do. I wouldn't feel right if I came to help with the mail and didn't do anything. I will take care of this. I guess I'll see you in a while?"
"We'll be here," Iron Man said.
Flash raced off.
The door opened a crack.
"Mrs. Simonson?" Flash asked. He had just run from New York City to Fawcett City, but was not out of breath.
"Yes, that's me," the elderly lady on the other side answered. She peered through the door, leaving the chain on. Flash could see that she was wearing a pink housecoat.
"May I come in?"
She shifted over to get a good look at her visitor.
"Who are you?"
"I am Flash. I'm from the Avengers League. I got your letter."
"Well, good heavens me!" Mrs. Simonson exclaimed. She closed the door, and then opened it all the way. "Come on in."
"Thank you, ma'am," Flash said as he entered.
"Let's come into the sitting room," Mrs. Simonson offered. "Would you care for something to drink? Coffee? Soda? Eggnog?"
"No thanks," Flash replied politely. "I'm fine."
The two entered Mrs. Simonson's "sitting room." Mrs. Simonson took a seat on the sofa. Flash sat down in the armchair beside her.
"So, Mrs. Simonson, your letter said something about finding your son?"
"Yes. You see, I was diagnosed a couple of months ago with a terminal illness. The doctors are not sure how long I have to live. I was hoping to spend one last Christmas with my son."
"But you haven't heard from him in a while."
"That's right. For some reason, it seemed like he fell off the face of the Earth."
"Do you have any idea where he might be?"
"The last letter I received from him had a return address of Keystone City."
Flash perked up when he heard this. "Keystone City?" he asked. "Then you're in luck. That's my home base!"
"Oh, can you please find him? His name is Bill." She stood up and walked to a desk. She picked up a picture and handed it to Flash. "Here take this. It's the latest picture I have of him."
Flash stood up. "I'll be on my way."
"Oh, thank you, Flash." Mrs. Simonson gave the hero a hug.
"Sure, no problem . . . "
Fifteen minutes later, Flash had already searched half of the city. Finally, he had almost given up, when he saw someone in an alley looking through a box.
"Excuse me," Flash said. "Do you need some assistance?"
The man turned around. "No, jus' lookin'."
Flash was shocked. It's him! It's Bill Simonson! Is he . . . Out on the street?
"Pardon me for asking," Flash said, "but is your name Bill?"
"Yes," the man grunted. "What of it. It's a common enough name."
"Your last name wouldn't be Simonson, would it?"
Bill stopped rummaging and turned around. "What are you, one of those superheroes?"
"Well, yeah - "
"And how do you know my name?" Bill snapped. "Did someone tell you to find me? To give me handouts?"
"Actually, your mother wrote a letter to the Avengers League. I answered it. She wants to see you, Bill."
"Does she know I'm like this?"
Flash shook his head. "No. She wanted to find you because she has a terminal illness."
"What?" Now it was Bill's turn to be shocked.
"She told me herself. Bill, she just wants to spend Christmas with her son. It may be her last."
Bill was almost in tears. "How bad is she?"
"She seems to be in good spirits now. But I don't know how far along she is."
"Can you . . . can you . . . take me to her?" Bill almost choked on his words.
"Sure," Flash said. "Although I'm not used to carrying another person, I'll try."
"Use this," Bill said. He pulled a shopping cart from the corner of the alley and climbed in.
"Okay. Hang on tight. But first, I think you should go somewhere to get cleaned up a bit. I think I know just the place."
After a quick stop at Wally West's apartment, Flash and Bill raced to Fawcett City. They ditched the cart a few blocks away from Mrs. Simonson's house and walked the rest of the way.
When Flash knocked on the door, it opened immediately.
"Oh my word!" Mrs. Simonson exclaimed. "Bill!"
"Hi, mom," Bill said. Instantly, both were in a tight embrace.
"Thank you, Flash," Mrs. Simonson said. "How can I ever repay you?"
"Just enjoy the holiday, and help your son out. And both of you, if you ever need to talk to someone about anything, just let me know. Just call the League, and they'll contact me."
"Thank you, Flash," Mrs. Simonson repeated, tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. "And merry Christmas."
Flash smiled. "Merry Christmas. Both of you."
"Merry Christmas," Bill said as Flash ran off.
December 23, 6:35 PM
New York City
On his way back, Flash had received a message saying that Cap and Iron Man had finished the going through the mail and he should report to the Hall of Justice.
When he arrived, he found Captain America and Iron Man standing in what used to be an empty room with another man. Flash recognized him as Henry Gyrich, the man instrumental in reorganizing the League.
"So nice of you to join us," Gyrich said. "You are fortunate to be one of the first to see my Christmas gift to the League. Today, we have moved these transporters to the Hall of Justice to allow you to access your new base of operations."
"And where is that?" Cap asked.
"A watchtower, on the moon," Gyrich replied. He pushed a button on the remote control he was holding and a large screen lit up with the specs of the moon watchtower. "It's fully functional, and with even more technology than you have here. From the moon, you'll be able to monitor the situation on Earth more efficiently, and be able to serve more of the planet."
"Well, thank you," Captain America said. "I don't know what to say . . . "
"Then don't say anything. Merry Christmas, Cap."