A week has passed since the Flower Incident of D.C. Nat and Tony were once again, back in the hospital. Nat had to have her entire body wrapped in bandages for the longest time with Tony by her side. Tony was almost ecstatic to have his face wrapped because, for the still-mysterious reason, he doesn't like his face being seen.
Nat was loaded onto a stretcher and dragged to a room called 'Advanced Tissue Replacement'. She was put under a technological piece that lit up a green light and shined over her body. She was amazed and slightly confused as to what was happening but when Dr. Cho slowly unwrapped the bandages around her hand, her scarred flesh crispy as wood in a bonfire, the skin began to regenerate. Nat was astonished by this discovery, almost about to pass out from excitement but held her composure. About twenty-five minutes later, the bandages around her body were removed and her entire flesh was healed completely. At least, that's what she thought.
"What is this?" Nat asked.
"We call it the Regenerating Cradle," Dr. Cho answered. "It doesn't regenerate per se, but there's no possibility of deterioration when this occurs. The nano-molecular functionality is instantaneous. Your cells don't know they're bonding with simulacra."
She's creating tissue. Tissue to replace the skin that I lost in the boiling water. Wow, a scientist who does do good things. Rappaccini deserved to die.
"She's not flatlining, is she?" Tony asked on the other stretcher. "I mean, she is older so she has a higher chance of dying but I'm going to sue if she dies because she is made of plastic."
"She's not made of plastic," Dr. Cho reassured. "She's made of herself. That I promise. Not even her boyfriend will be able to tell the difference."
Nat chuckled as she sat up. "I don't have a boyfriend."
"Funny," she said. "Because he made a very generous donation for this operation to happen. Do you know how much money it costs to operate the Regenerating Cradle? Your boyfriend donated three million dollars for this operation to happen."
"I have a boyfriend with three million dollars?" She realized it sounded like a stupid question and that people could mistake her for a girl with amnesia, but she had no boyfriend. No husband, but an ex-fiance.
Wait a freaking second.
"What was my boyfriend's name?" Another inadvertent and subtle mislead that she may have amnesia.
"He said his name was Aleksey Lebedev. He came down to the hospital personally to pay the money." She turns to Tony and calls him over. "Time for your turn, Mr. Masters. I promise, once this operation is done, you won't have to wear a mask to hide your beautiful face."
"I don't wear a mask to hide my disfigured face. I've been wearing masks since I was four-years-old."
"Why is that? It doesn't seem healthy."
"Like the song by Backstreet Boys, As Long As You Love Me," he then changed his voice to a singing voice. "And why I wear a mask is still a mys-ter-y."
Nat was taken into the hospital room to recover while Ton's operation took place. Even with the Regenerating Cradle, the wound in her side from six years ago was permanent and unhealable, even by a device that had 'regenerating' in the title. She had come to accept that wound and was even glad that it remained because sometimes, it is better to have and to hold to something that reminded you of who you are in the first place to have to hold and lose something that could prevent you from leaping to the dark side.
But my boyfriend, seriously. Who the freaking hell is Aleksey Lebedev? I know nobody that goes by my name. Besides, the closest thing I've had to a boyfriend, husband, or even fiance (or rather, ex-fiance), is Alexei Shostakov. What the hell? Is Alexei Shostakov Aleksey Lebedev? If that's the case, what the hell is he doing here in America? Is he trying to chase after me like a hopeless romantic vain boy or is there something else. Until I know for sure, I have to consider my almost-husband to be a threat at all costs. He did leave a few marks like a dog.
Tony's operation finished up. When the doctors weren't looking, he looked at himself in the mirror and smiled that his face was reformed. Then he grabbed the bandages and wrapped them around once more so his face would forever be concealed.
"Aunty Natty," Jeane squealed upon walking into the room. "You're in the hospital again." She jumped onto Nat's bed and hugged her tightly. "Your face, it's not burned like last time."
"That's because my skin is now made of plastic," Nat said. Then she touched her head. Her bald head. "My hair will grow back, don't worry."
"You kinda look like a man with a bald head."
I look like a man with a bald head? Huh, maybe I could pull a prank on Tony and pretend that I'm a man.
"Where's your mother and Aunt/Uncle FitzSimmons?"
"They're behind me."
And speaking of the devils to flew to heaven and became angels, the three of them walked in the room.
"Nat," Mercedes said with a smile on her face. "How are you doing? Your skin looks remarkable like it was never scarred at all."
"Because she's made of plastic," Jeanne answered. "Don't worry, her hair will grow back."
The four of them chuckled before Jeanne jumped off the bed and FitzSimmons took her to see her father.
Mercedes stayed behind with Nat. She put her hands behind her back like she was talking to a high ranking officer. "It took a week but all of Flower has been eradicated and Washington D.C. is no longer deemed mad. It was a miracle that only seven people lost their lives in the hour it went on. In other news, Rose is serving time but not in prison, a psych ward."
"That's good news indeed."
"And as for Rappaccini, her identity was exposed to the public and Advanced Idea Mechanics was suspended by the US government indefinitely. Its stock prices crashed in less then three days. For all intents and purposes, A.I.M. is done."
Tony was wheeled back into the room in a wheelchair being pushed by Fitz. Even though he could walk perfectly, he insisted on resting his legs. He still had his face bandaged and the first thing he did when he jumped out of the wheelchair was hugging his wife and then the first thing he did do was head for the dresser and pull out his skull mask to put it back into place.
"Can I see your real face?" Mercedes asked.
Tony sighed slightly before he lifted the mask and pulled the bandages off. He showed his real face to her.
"You're beautiful," she said softly.
With his back turned to them, FitzSimmons tried to get a look at Tony's real face but his mask was already back in place.
"Daddy, how does it feel to be in the hospital again?" Jeanne asked.
He wanted to come up with a snarky reply but he could not be that mean to his daughter so he came up with an honest answer. "It feels exhausting."
"I know how you feel," Nat answered. "Come sit next to me, little brother. Niece, sister-in-law, friends, come join up with me as well."
The five of them were officially gathered around Nat's bed and as cruel as they were, they snicked at listening to Nat who has no hair on her head. It was just so funny but they kept their laughs at a minimum.
I am going to hell for this, most of them thought (except Jeanne).
"I know," Nat snapped, "I have a bald head. Laugh later when I can kill you in a place where lives are being saved."
"We're listening, sis."
"I know that Rappaccini, Rose, and Advanced Idea Mechanics are done for, but I have a feeling that there's something else going on." She holds up her hand like she was going to slap Tony but only shows the back of her palm. "My hand was burned from the boiling water and then someone pays three million dollars for my skin to be repaired. The doctors said that it was my boyfriend who paid the money but I don't have a boyfriend."
"You're too good for boyfriends," Fitz said.
"Jeanne says you say that a lot," Simmons added.
"I'm too good for a boyfriend but I have a feeling that the person who sent the money for my body to be repaired just might be my ex-fiance."
"Alexei Shostakov," Tony said as the name tasted like a bad curry to him. "I didn't like him. I didn't like him fondling my sister like she was a trophy."
"We're over, that was nine years ago but I doubt this has anything to do with our failed marriage. What if it was my ex-fiance who sent the money to the hospital? I mean, he would most certainly have the resources and money."
"Alexei Shostakov, he used to be part of the Red Room but is now a pilot for a Russian agency," Fitz said. "I remember him. I like him."
"Who is A-Lexy Shoes-To-Cough?" Jeanne asked and tried her hardest to pronounce his name.
"He would've been your uncle," Nat answered. "But, things didn't work out so we broke it off. I always hoped that he was happy at his job as a pilot but apparently, he's back and he is looking out for me. I don't trust him."
"I mean," Fitz began. "He was the man who was about to become your husband almost nine years ago. Is it such a bad thing that he sent money to have you repaired?"
Nat tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. "Let me ask you something, what would you think if a bully from high school paid for your medical bill?"
"I was never bullied in high school," Fitz answered.
"I was," Simmons spoke. "I would be wondering why he would do such a thing if she kept on beating me up. I would be wondering if he was doing it out of guilt or something else. All and all, I would be curious as to why."
"Exactly. If a bully even manages to pay for your medical bill, it is so you can get the full recovery to get beaten up again. It wasn't on the surface but Alexei was a bully. Not to my face but he was a bully to other people."
"Well, the world isn't all sunshine and rainbows," Tony said. "The Red Room did train us to be assassins."
"No, he would use his training to go out and kill innocent people for pastime. He wouldn't be discriminate about his target. I saw him aim his crosshairs at a pregnant woman and when I tried to intervene, the gun went off and the woman was gone. He was physically abusive not to me, but to innocent people, even those who are polite to him. If you spend ten minutes with the real him, you'll start to see that Alexei was something of a sociopath. I didn't want to be with him so I broke off the marriage but I don't think he handled it well. We haven't had contact in nine years and he pays money for my hospital operation."
"Maybe he still loves you," Jeanne suggested.
"Pay money to have my skin repaired from wounds that aren't even fatal, to begin with? It's almost like he wanted me repaired and back in shape for something."
"Maybe he wants you to look good for the next time when you meet him?" suggested Tony.
Nat gave him an are-you-stupid look. "Alexei may be a sociopath but he has no concerns about looks, only performances. Maybe he sent the money cause he thought that my wounds would interfere with my performance."
"Even if that's the case, then what do you need your Black Widow performance for? The worst that could happen is he came back to haunt you."
"He paid three million dollars. It would be easy pickings if he used the money that was funded to the Red Room but the Red Room is disbanded."
"So where could the money have come from? It could've come from his pilot salary, of course?"
"Unless it still came from the Red Room. I know it's a longshot, but Alexei has always been a firm believer in the Red Room. Even if he took advantage of what he has learned, he is a true patriot to his country and the Red Room. If he paid three million dollars, then it must've come from the Red Room."
"Which means what?"
"Which means that he is coming to America. If he isn't coming back from Russia to reunite with his lost love, then he is coming back to reunite with his lost love because she is the one who tore apart the organization that trained him and even gave birth to his alter-ego that he adores so much, the Red Guardian."
"So it's both business and personal."
Nat nods. "That's all I can think of." Her eyesight drifts off the side as more deductive information comes drilling into her skull. "If he did pay with Red Room money, then that means he wants me in the best shape possible for what comes next."
"And what is coming next?"
Nat really wished she had an answer to that question.
And this concludes the second installment of the Black Widow trilogy. Thank you for reading, hope you had a good time, and leave a review, follow, and/or favorite it. Until then, The Alpha Gray Wolf is out.