Night, in New York City, where one can be the loneliest number…especially at a table for two. Karen Page pours herself another glass of wine as she sits at a candle-lit table in her apartment, food ready and waiting on the table – the only thing that’s missing is her companion. Karen tells herself to take a deep breath, ‘There’s always the microwave’ she mutters. ‘So what if he’s late…so what if I’m freezing my butt off in this completely non-functional, sexist handkerchief with straps? Yeah. So what?’
Karen pulls a shawl over her skimpy dress for warmth, before deciding that in five minutes she is putting on her sweats. ‘If he wants sexy, he can leaf through the catalogue I ordered this stupid thing from!’ Karen exclaims, before sipping her wine and wondering what happened to him this time – Razor Sharpe dumping more hours on him – or a bank robber he just had to stop from looting a quik-e-mart? ‘I know, Stilt-Man’ Karen begins, when suddenly there is a knock at her door.
Karen calls out ‘Taking the modest route, are we? It must be hard to swing through a window with one’s tail between one’s legs!’ Karen goes over to the door and exclaims ‘Since I know you can hear me, mister hyper-senses hero – let me tell you that if you don’t have a dozen roses and a big fat excuse for why I sat here for two hours dressed like a tramp – you’re dead?’ Karen exclaims as she opens the door to the Black Widow a.k.a. Natasha Romanov who is holding Karen’s boyfriend Daredevil a.k.a. Matt Murdock in her arms. Karen is shocked and asks what happened, to which the Black Widow replies ‘I shot him. Now would you kindly invite us in? He’s dripping in your hallway’.
Meanwhile, in Brighton Beach, at a small curio shop specializing in Russian imports, two men are watching a television recording from earlier today where the former Avenger known as the Black Widow shot and apparently killed the costumed crime fighter known as Daredevil, before taking his body to parts unknown. ‘The Avengers’ press agent was unavailable for comment’ a newscaster announces. General Tskarov remarks that the Black Widow spinning her deadly web over Daredevil is most unexpected. ‘And most convenient’ the man called Davidoff adds, assuring Tskarov that he can reach the Widow, as they have a past. ‘She’s fallen’ he exclaims.
‘True. Fallen so far…so far…or is it too far, Davidoff…too convenient?’ Tskarov asks. Davidoff assures the General that the Black Widow is ideal for their needs. ‘Her leadership and tactical abilities, combined with our soon to be reunited comrades….the power at your disposal will be glorious!’ Tskarov tells the General that his enthusiasm is noted, but to remember that Romanov is not called the Black Widow without reason. ‘I would recommend a prolonged courtship before you rush into the marriage’ the General remarks, before ordering Davidoff to bring the Black Widow here tonight.
Meanwhile, ‘Just a kiss, darling, a kiss…a sweet widow’s kiss!’ exclaims a horrid form of the Black Widow, reaching out for Daredevil. ‘I don’t feel like I’m asleep…too real!’ Matt thinks. ‘From that distance…I smelled her…all of her…she was at home in my senses…I must have known what was coming – but I didn’t believe it!’ Matt begins to relive the shooting now, thinking that even when Natasha’s forearm made a noise, like leather pulling tight. Tendon concentrated, metal fell into place. There was a kick of sulfur as the cartridge ejected and Matt remembers how shocked he was, as he had forgotten how good a shot Natasha was. He thought she was kidding – till he felt the burn….
‘NATASHA!’ screams Matt as he wakes up. Karen apologizes, thinking she had hurt him while tending to his bullet wound. Matt is barely coherent, while Karen informs him that Natasha said the bullet tunnelled under his skin and out through his shoulder, assuring him that nothing is badly damaged. Karen apologizes that alcohol is all she has for the infection. ‘She shot me! She really did it!’ Matt remarks as he tries to sit up. Karen tells him to lie right back down, adding that the only place he is going is a hospital.
Matt groans as he lies back down, ‘That was a real stupid idea…wasn’t it?’ he asks. ‘Duh’ Karen tells him as she remarks that he has lost some blood, but that Natasha did patch him up pretty good. ‘She did…why?’ Matt asks. ‘Good question’ Karen replies, ‘I’ll be sure to ask her next time we play bridge’ she remarks sarcastically, before telling Matt that she is going to re-dress his wound, then they are going straight to the hospital.
Sweat pouring over him, Matt wonders if it was mind control, if Natasha shot him against her will. Karen tells Daredevil not to get it in his head that he is going to run after the Black Widow. ‘Daredevil has the rest of the night off, do you hear me?’ she exclaims before switching the light out and leaving the room. Daredevil remarks that Natasha is a trained assassin, so if she had really wanted to kill him, she could have, ‘Why save me?’ he wonders, ‘Oh, Natasha…what happened to you?’.
Meanwhile, across town in a half-lit alley, the Black Widow balances herself on a ledge and does her best to avoid asking herself the same question – what has happened to her? Natasha thinks that it was an unfortunate complication, but improvised, as she is a good soldier, and a successful soldier improvises. She tells herself that she is an excellent soldier in a serious war, adding that it is unfortunate that Omega Red escaped, which now becomes her responsibility for another time, otherwise the integrity of the mission went uncompromised – the obstacle was eliminated…’Good soldier’ she tells herself, before exclaiming ‘Curse you, Matthew!’
Suddenly, a car pulls up near the alleyway and Davidoff steps out. He looks upwards and sees Natasha. Addressing her as Dame Romanov, he remarks ‘I believe you gave me a call?’ before telling her that it is a pleasure to see her again. ‘Shall we?’ he asks, motioning to his car while informing Natasha that the General is anxious to finally meet her.
Back in Karen’s apartment, Karen calls to Matt, telling him that after they clean his wound out she will get him some civilian clothes, before she notices him getting out of bed. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she asks. ‘Fixing my threads’ Matt replies as he wraps bandages around his exposed wound. Matt jokes that it wouldn’t do his image any good to go swinging around New York looking like a ragamuffin. ‘That’s a joke, honey’ he exclaims when Karen doesn’t answer him. ‘Sure, ha ha’ Karen replies sarcastically, before telling Matt that just in case he missed it before, he is not going out there to find that psychopath. She even spells it out for him – N – O – T!
Matt pulls his mask down as he tells Karen that Natasha wouldn’t have done what she did if she wasn’t in trouble. ‘I don’t give a flying fig if Doctor Doom’s about to rip out her twisted little spine! You are staying RIGHT HERE!’ Karen shouts, before going over to her lover and reminding him that she puts up with a lot being Daredevil’s woman, and does so without question most of the time, but that right now, he needs to go to a hospital where he can be taken care of.
Karen tells Matt that if the Black Widow is tough enough to blow a hole in his chest, then she is tough enough to fend for herself. Karen turns her back to Matt and declares that she is going to count to three, and when she gets there, she is going to turn around and see him, coat in hand, ready to go to the emergency room. ‘If I don’t…we’re going to have a problem’ she warns him. Matt hangs his head as he puts a hand on Karen’s arm, ‘Please don’t…’he begins, but Karen remarks ‘One…two…’ and Matt is gone.
Swinging between skyscrapers, Daredevil doesn’t know what is worse – the encyclopedia of aches and pains shredding across his body every time he even thinks about taking a breath – or the fact that Karen is one hundred percent, incontrovertibly right. ‘And I just walked out on her’. Daredevil leaps onto a balcony, telling himself that whether the Black Widow has gone over the edge, or is acting against her will, he cannot sit by and just watch things happen – not to a friend.
Daredevil peers inside the window of the building he landed on – which happens to be Natasha’s apartment. He tells himself that it is probably the last place he should look for her, as chances are she did not swing by for a snack after perforating him. However, Matt thinks that perhaps maybe Natasha got sloppy and left behind a clue – ‘Or ten? Whoa!’ he thinks looking into Natasha’s apartment where a group of SHIELD agents have all sorts of tracking devices set up.
Matt picks up the vibrations coming through Natasha’s windows. ‘The Black Widow’s got more than dead bugs waiting for her back at the web’ Matt thinks. ‘Hear the name SHIEKD bandied about a few times and even a blind man figures out who’s coming home for dinner. ‘Hello, plot thickening!’ Daredevil exclaims, before attempting to block out the background noise of the city and try to pick up what the SHIELD agents are saying – lucky for him at least one of the agents is close enough to him to get both sides of the conversation.
‘Yes, Commander Dugan, sir – her tracer has been deactivated so as not to alert anyone!’ one of the officers informs Dum Dum Dugan via radio. Dugan is rather unimpressed, and asks the officer if they sent her to Brighton without a tracker, and asks about back up. The SHIELD agent replies ‘No, sir…she insisted. Umm…she also took out tailing unit!’ ‘WHAT???’ Dugan bellows. Daredevil wonders if they are referring to Brighton Beach, Little Odessa perhaps, as there is a big community of Soviet immigrants, and Omega Red did have a Russian accent.
Daredevil hears someone mention Brighton Beach, which confirms his suspicions, while thinking to himself ‘Thanks, boys. Remind me to tell you the one about Nick Fury’s trick cigar at the next SHIELD poker night’ when suddenly Matt becomes dizzy and loses his footing, slipping from the balcony, he manages to grip onto one of the railings, but now hanging high in the air, he wonders if there is another way to the beach.
Nearby, a taxi driver has switched his sign to “off duty” and is singing along to the radio while eating donuts. One of the back seat doors opens then slams shut as Daredevil takes a seat. The taxi driver looks in his rear-vision mirror and exclaims ‘Hey buddy, don’t break my shoes! I’m on a dinner break! Can’t you read the sign?’ he asks, before turning around and seeing Daredevil. ‘Sorry…my eyes aren’t so good sometimes’ the hero replies.
Meanwhile, beneath the General’s innocuous-looking samovar shop, various contraptions and devices are spread out, and the General stands over a table where a young woman clad in black and yellow is being held prisoner. ‘Are you in pain…my dark flower?’ the General asks, before telling her that she can end it now, just by giving herself, sharing her gifts willingly as the rest of her family has, then the metal beast which holds her will no longer be necessary. ‘Please…let me stop the hurting’ he remarks creepily.
Suddenly, Davidoff enters the basement and informs the General that the Black Widow is here. Tskarov turns to the woman on the table, ‘Excuse me, darling…I must go entertain your replacement’ he tells her, ‘I pray that she fares better on the interview than you did’.
Back upstairs, the Black Widow has been inspecting the shop, ‘Three cameras, two hidden mikes, infra-red…certainly more’ she exclaims, before deciding that she can’t look like she is looking for these things. ‘Tight security for a curio shop’ she remarks as Davidoff and the General enter the store. The General points out that this is New York, so one can never be too careful. Davidoff informs the Black Widow that this is the man he has been telling her about, General Tskarov.
Tskarov kisses Natasha on the back of her hand, ‘The Snow Wolf?’ she asks, before telling Davidoff that he keeps impressive company these days, and that she is honored. ‘Not so much as I, fair one’ Tskarov replies, before telling Natasha that she is more beautiful than she is deadly. Natasha frowns as she tells the General that she thinks he has it backwards – ‘In fact, I do know you – can we get down to business?’ she exclaims. The General remarks that the Widow is always the focused one, before suggesting she sit down as there are others they must wait for. ‘Others?’ Natasha asks. The General assures her that there will be plenty of time to discuss the others later, but for now he wants to know about Daredevil.
Meanwhile, Daredevil stands on a rooftop while thinking that he is close to where he needs to be, as the taxi driver was familiar enough with the neighbourhood to get him within a few blocks of where he needed to be. The aroma of Ukrainian cooking tickles Daredevil’s nose, and shards of a melody written from somewhere behind the former Iron Curtain reach his ears. It is a solid ethnic neighborhood he decides. Matt jokes that if things weren’t so twisted right now, he would really enjoy this tour de senses – after a week in bed and ten pounds of aspirin that is.
Matt begins to focus more specifically now, in “bloodhound” mode, searching for any trace of Natasha. He extends his senses to the limit, trusting that his mind can weather the storm of sensations crashing in long enough to find the right buy 0 the scent burned into his memory – the one he used to consider a safe haven…’Natasha!’ he exclaims, before leaping from the building down into the warehouse yard below. The landing sends fire through his chest, waking him up a bit, which he is grateful for, as he needs it.
Daredevil decides that Natasha has been here recently, and realizes that the building is small enough so it shouldn’t be too much trouble to find her, when suddenly he detects sounds echoing up through the ground – something big is beneath him, a generator perhaps, in some cavernous structure – suddenly, Matt detects something else, ‘Nice doggie?’ he exclaims thinking a guard dog has come up behind him, when really…it’s a massive brown bear!
‘Funny thing about certain New York neighbourhoods…when it gets dark, the place turns into a zoo!’ Daredevil jokes as he moves out of the bear’s way, deciding that he must be more badly wounded than he thought, as not only did he not hear the bear approaching, but if he didn’t know any better, he would say that underneath the forest musk, this bear smells…human. ‘I must be out of my mind!’ Matt thinks, when suddenly the bear speaks, ‘Nicolai! He’s coming for you!!’ the bear shouts. Daredevil tells himself to remove all hints of sarcasm from the last thought. ‘I’m certifiable’.
‘Can you ride on a unicycle and juggle borscht too?’ Daredevil asks the bear, who just cries ‘Now!’ in reply. Suddenly, Daredevil detects another heartbeat – someone lunging at him. Matt cannot leap away as he is off balance. Seen in a silhouette are a hammer and a sickle being wielded by the man lunging at Daredevil. ‘How about a nice roll, instead?’ Matt exclaims as he dodges the hammer and sickle – except he forgot about his wound, and realizes he made a stupid mistake. The skin tears open as he lands, and he knows it is only a matter of seconds before his long-long johns take on a darker hue – but he decides that it is lucky he will not be conscious long enough to care, for the bear grabs him, and gives him, well, a bear-hug. ‘I’d say that his grip is like steel, but even for that classic cliché…I don’t have the breath…’ Matt exclaims before he passes out.
Back in the General’s store, Tskarov remarks to Natasha that the General has told him that her last dance with the Devil has left her in a trouble of sort. Natasha replies that certain plans have gone awry, but that it is nothing she cannot handle. The General replies that if that were true, he does not believe they would be having this conversation. Sipping some tea, the General reminds Natasha that her team – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – the Avengers were killed on her watch by Onslaught. He remarks that since then she has made a slow descent into vengeance for her fallen comrades – but what has that brought her? Only the death of her former lover Daredevil at her own hand. ‘That incident was unfortunate’ Natasha replies.
The General laughs at that remark, and tells Natasha that she is as heartless as her namesake. ‘Don’t mock my pain, General’ Natasha snaps back, before declaring that Daredevil was a superior operative, adding that there was a time when he was more. ‘That time is gone’ she states, remarking that there cannot be a war without collateral damage. ‘He died because he became weak, like the rest of the Avengers. I am not’ Natasha exclaims, before asking the General if they are rehashing her past relationships, would he like to talk about Hawkeye next?
The General replies that that won’t be necessary, before declaring that it is time to get down to business. He motion to the doorway and informs Natasha that her fellow soldiers have arrived, and he asks them to enter. The General declares that he believes they all know each other from the glory days of the KGB. Standing in the doorway are two handsome Russian men, and the General presents Major Mikhail Ursus and Nicolai Krylenko – or as they are more commonly know – Ursa Major and Vanguard!
Major Ursus remarks that with all due to respect to the General and Ms. Romanova, he doesn’t believe this is the ideal time for reunions. ‘I see’ the General remarks frostily as Major Ursus drags the limp body of Daredevil into the room. Natasha hangs her head as the General tells her that her life has just become extremely interesting.
Later, Matt, tied to a table, regains consciousness, waking in a place that is cool – until a voice disturbs that peace, ‘Devil?’ Natasha asks. Matt wishes he could stay, but Natasha smacks him across the face, telling him to wake up and listen to her. Matt looks at his former lover and asks her if that was absolutely necessary. ‘I’m ill, you know – lead poisoning!’ he exclaims. Natasha, whose arms are bound from her elbow to her finger tips by metal contraption asks Matt if he is listening to her. He ignores the question, instead asking Natasha why she shot him. ‘So I could kill you!’ the Black Widow replies. ‘Why else does one shoot?’
Matt is still groggy and cannot tell if Natasha’s heart is skipping beats, which would determine if she is lying or not. But as the impatient Natasha taps her fingertips together, Matt tells himself that he doesn’t think she is lying at all. Coldly, Natasha informs Matt that he was in her way and that because of him, Omega Red escaped. ‘For that…you should be put down like a dog!’ she exclaims. A shocked Matt cannot believe it – he doesn’t detect a shred of remorse, when he finally detects her tapping.
Matt realizes that Natasha is tapping her fingers ever so slightly, inaudible to the human ear or microphone – and the pattern is that of Morse Code. ‘You go girl’ he thinks to himself. In reply to her comment about him being put down like a dog, Matt says to Natasha ‘You don’t really believe that, do you?’ to which she replies ‘Yes’. Her tapping however has a different answer: No, Matthew…I don’t.
Matt asks Natasha what happened to her, to which the Black Widow replies that there is no more Natasha, that she died along with the rest of the Avengers. Her tapping however reveals something else: Since Onslaught, working for SHIELD, “Avenging Avenger” attitude construct. Ruse to gain access to Underworld. To Tskarov. Couldn’t tell a soul. Matt thinks to himself that he has to make this look good, so in a disappointed voice he remarks ‘Oh, Tasha…no!’ Natasha replies via Morse Code: General is ex-KGB. Muscling in on organized crime, rumored to have very powerful agents and weapon. You met agents. Must discover if loyal…destroy weapon.
‘So all you ever said…ever believed in…you just gave that up?’ Matt asks. Natasha replies ‘How can one survive on false dreams?’, while her fingers says something else: Was working with Omega Red when you showed up. Concerned him. Planned on faking his own death. Had to improvise. ‘Improvise? You shot me’ Matt thinks to himself, as Natasha continues: Tirgenov’s Gambit – old KGB trick, shoot partner with small calibre weapon, deflect bullet off ribcage. Enemy thinks partner has turned allegiances. Partner lives…if the shot is clean. Only two people ever survived. You and I.
Matt thinks to himself that even if Natasha is playing a role, that was awfully ruthless of her, and tells her that this coldness is not her, that she is still hurting over the others – ‘Don’t mention them! Don’t!’ Natasha shouts. There is a moment of silence, broken only when Natasha declares that she does not miss them, while a shocked Matt listens as she taps: No…I do not. Soldiers die. Even good ones. Don’t mention them again, Matt, please.
Davidoff and the General have been monitoring the Black Widow and Daredevil, and Davidoff tells the General that he doesn’t want to question his judgment, but that Natasha has turned to their side, and was only mistaken about Daredevil’s status. Tskarov tells Davidoff that Natasha Romanov is an excellent actress and that he would do well to remember that. The General warns Davidoff that he would also do well to remember that if he challenges him once again, his tenure on this planet will come to an abrupt end. ‘Y-yes, sir’ Davidoff replies nervously.
The General declares that any doubts about the Widow’s state of mind shall be dispelled after they have a private session together, adding that even if she has been sent to infiltrate their operation, it is no matter, as he needs only one more soldier, and the Black Widow will be it. The General remarks that he can be especially persuasive when he cares to be, and turns to a table in the room, where a large contraption encases the powerful mutant Darkstar! ‘Isn’t that right, my Darkstar?’ the General asks as dozens of needles are pointed at the captured Laynia Petrovna….