The arrival of the spaceship was a quiet affair. The Wakandan people were too busy trying to ensure their continued survival. Not only had half of them vanished as well as half of the livestock, the majority of their army had died at the hands of their invaders. The ground was drenched in blood and corpses of their landsmen, -women and the aliens. The water supply and surrounding forests were slowly being poisoned by the leakage of alien substances originating from the spaceships.
While there hadn’t been nearly as much collateral damage, as in other highly developed countries, the traumatised people struggled with the cleanup efforts, despite the help the few remaining Avengers were offering. None of them had time for yet another bout of extra-terrestrial problems.
As soon as the information of incoming space travellers led by Nebula had reached Rocket, he had been hopeful that more members of his team had survived and had insisted on accompanying Steve. Natasha, who had taken over Tony’s place as more or less second-in-command, had also been adamant in her wish to join. Thus, only Steve, Natasha and Rocket were there to receive the spaceship.
All hope they had clung to after Rocket had confirmed that it was indeed the Guardians’ ship, was quenched when a blue-skinned woman stepped out of the ship’s opening onto the landing ramp. Stone-faced, she only shook her head when Rocket whispered a soft “Nebula?”.
“Are you Steve Rogers?”, she asked Steve, ignoring the racoon who had fallen to his knees, silently crying, shaking.
“I am”, he returned defeated, numbed by the revelation that the small possibility of more help to undo Thanos’ act had just been snuffed out.
“Follow me.” She turned her back to them and walked back through the opening in the ship’s outer wall.
Steve threw a questioning glance at Natasha who answered him with a shrug. Rocket seemingly trusted the woman and truly, there was almost nothing that could worsen their situation at this point. He glanced at Rocket, still lost in his tears. Whatever Nebula wanted to show him, he would probably be able to deal with it on his own. After coming to a silent understanding with Natasha to stay with Rocket, he followed Nebula into the ship.
“Down here. I would warn you that it’s not pretty but from what I have seen of this land, you are accustomed to the sight of death.” Her voice rose through a hole in the floor that apparently led to the ship’s lower level. Carefully Steve descended the narrow ladder. As soon as he was facing what Nebula wanted to show him, he felt his stomach drop. There, laid out on the floor on some kind of futuristic material, lay Tony Stark, utterly motionless. Nebula moved to stand next to him.
“He must have died when we were entering the solar system. I am sorry, he fought bravely.”
Manoeuvring Tony’s still body up the ladder and through the hatch proved quite challenging. By the time Steve stepped onto the ramp, Tony’s corpse in a bridal hold across his arms, Thor had arrived, probably called by Natasha to assist with calming Rocket. They had apparently forged an unlikely bond of friendship during their quest for Thor’s new weapon. Natasha, who had been talking to someone on her in-ear comms, noticed Steve first. Hand still at her ear, she gasped incredulously, alarming Thor with her unusual reaction.
“He survived going up against Thanos and the dusting, only succumb to his injury hours away from help that could have saved him. Doctor Strange gave up the time stone to ensure his life. Tony was our only chance to make things right again and we failed him”, Steve told them, lost.