Pain woke me, and for a moment I was lost.  My legs, my right arm, my abdomen, and my head all burned severely… I must have cried out.  I was in a brightly lit room surrounded by people who were all talking at once, but for a long moment I couldn’t understand anything but the pain.

I heard a clear voice cut through the noise, saying “Nurse, more morphine,” and a moment later I felt a little better.  I wasn’t that I felt good, it was just that the pain lessened to the point that I could think.

A man was leaning over me.  It was Doctor Hyde.  “Mystery Woman,” he said, “you’ve been badly injured.  May I remove your mask?”

I think I told him it was okay.  I intended to, and anyway, he did it.  I felt the searing pain freshen in my face… the right side was burned badly enough that the mask had stuck to it.  I passed out again.

I woke up again, and I knew it was some time later.  I was in the same room, the medical bay in Guardians’ HQ, but this time only Doctor Hyde was present.  I was covered, and I could feel bandages on me, and I really hurt, just not quite as much as before.  “Doctor Hyde,” I said, weakly.

“Mystery Woman,” he said, coming over to me.

“How… how bad is it?”

His face… hardened, is the best way I can put it.  “I’m not going to lie to you,” he said, “there isn’t time for that.  You’re dying.  Only your superhuman endurance has kept you alive this long.  You shouldn’t even be awake with the drugs that are in you now.”

“What happened?”

“Plasma raked his blasters over you three times.  We think they fire bolts of fusing hydrogen… nuclear fire.  Mystery Woman… he cut off your legs above the knees, and your right arm below the elbow, and burned the side of your face badly, but it’s the wounds to your abdomen that are killing you.  I’m so sorry… there’s just nothing I can do for you.”

I thought about it, as best I could through the haze of medication.  “I understand,” I said at last.  “Thanks for telling me the truth.”

“There’s no point in lying,” he replied.

“What happened, anyway?  Did Plasma get away?”

“I’m afraid so,” he said.  “Lightning arrived in time to see Plasma shoot you…”

“Oh, so he’s who called my name.”

“I suppose.  Lightning thought you were dead.  He began an all-out attack on Plasma, but couldn’t hurt him through his armor.  Plasma couldn’t score a hit on Lightning, but the heat of his bolts was so great that Lightning still suffered burns just from the near misses.”

“Oh, is he okay?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about him, he’ll be fine.  As I said, he was trying to attack Plasma when he realized you were still alive, so he broke off his attack and brought you here for treatment.  He went back immediately, but in the few seconds he took telling me what happened, Plasma somehow disappeared.”  He paused for a moment, then said, “Is there anything you want?”

I laid back and focused on my breathing… even that hurt.  Finally I said, “My phone was in my left boot.  Is it still okay?”

“I have it right here,” he said, placing it in my left hand.  “I think it still works.”

I held it up, shakily, and dialed Frank’s number.  “Polly?” he said, his voice sounding strained.  “I saw on the news that you were attacked.  Are you okay?”

“No,” I said.  “Frank, I need my friends by me.  I’m at headquarters.  Please come.  Bring Sarah and Zoe.”

“We’ll be there,” he said.  “How do we get in?”

I turned to Doctor Hyde, and he held out his hand for the phone, so I gave it to him.  “This is Doctor Hyde,” he said into the phone.  “Please come to the back door of the headquarters building.  I’ll tell Gina to let you in.”

I mumbled my thanks to him, and passed out again from pain and exhaustion and drugs.

I woke up a while later.  Sarah was holding my hand, and Frank and Troll and Shawn were standing beside my bed.  Tears were running down their faces.  “Thank you all for coming,” I said.

“Polly, dear,” said Frank, almost choking on the words, “what can we do for you?”

“There’s nothing you can do,” I said.  “Doctor Hyde says there’s nothing he can do.  If he can’t fix me up, nobody can.”  I paused, resting.  It was a lot of words, and I was so very tired.  Finally I continued, “I guess I need to tell my family.  But I wanted you all here first. Where… where’s Zoe?”

“I tried to call her, but she didn’t answer,” said Frank.  “I left a message and told her to come here.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “Frank, can you find my phone?  It’s here somewhere.”

As he started looking for it, Sarah just held my hand and cried.  Troll was crying too, huge tears running down his crooked face.  He tried to say something, but all he could do was sort of croak… it would have been funny, if I hadn’t been dying.  Shawn put his hand on Troll’s shoulder, stretching up to reach it, and it was funny and sad and touching and all I wanted to do was cry.

Finally Frank put my phone in my hand.  I lifted it up, though it seemed as heavy as a car, and started scrolling through my contacts.  Who was I calling?  I couldn’t remember for a moment, through the haze of drugs, and I was a little awkward doing it with my left hand anyway.  Oh, yeah, Mom and Dad.  But which one to call first?

Then Zoe came in, led by Hyde.  “Oh, Polly!” she said when she saw the state I was in.

“It’s okay, Zoe,” I said.  “I knew being a hero was a dangerous business.  Please just come here and sit with me.  I’ve got to call Mom and Dad.”

“Polly, wait,” she said, holding up her hand.  I saw she was holding something… a vial, really more a test tube, full of a clear liquid, and a note.  “I went to Bob’s shop,” she said.  “He wasn’t there, but I did that thing you told me about and went inside, and I found this.  The note says, ‘Zoe, drink the potion, then kiss your friend.’  He left this for us, didn’t he?”

“He must have,” I said, a glimmer of hope pushing past the pain and the drugs.  I remembered the flask he gave me to drink out of, after my adventure through the gate the first time.  Then curiosity elbowed its way to the front of my mind.  “Why are you supposed to drink it?”

“I… I think I know.  You’ve got to trust me.  Me and Bob.  I think this is the only way you… you can live.”

“There isn’t anything you can do, right, Doc?” I asked.

“No.”  His answer was flat and impersonal, but I could see pain in his eyes.

“Do it,” I said, and she popped the cork and drank the liquid.  I could see that it didn’t taste very good, but she tried not to show it.  Then she bent over me for the kiss.

It was not the first time I’d kissed Zoe, but it was the first time there wasn’t a camera pointed at us.  I felt a coldness go through me, then a warmth.

I felt different.  I felt the crispness of the bedsheets, and a chill to the air that I hadn’t noticed before.  And the fuzz in my head was clearing.  Zoe looked at me, her eyes huge.  “Oh, no,” she said.  “Oh, no no no.  Oh, Polly, I’m so sorry…”

In the next moment I was screaming, at the top of my lungs.  I hurt, worse than I could ever remember hurting before.  The pain was a thing, mauling me all over, tearing at my arm and my legs and my body and my head.

I don’t know when it stopped.  The room was full of people again, not my friends, but Doctor Hyde and the nurse and Robin and people in white I didn’t recognize.  My throat was raw from screaming… and then the rawness just kind of went away.

Doctor Hyde looked down on me.  “How are you feeling now, Mystery Woman?”

“Better,” I said.  “The burning is gone.”  I looked into his eyes.  “Am I… am I going to live?”

“Yes,” he said.  “I don’t know how.  It’s like your powers have changed… you’re regenerating now.  All your damaged flesh is growing back.”

I looked around.  “Where are my friends?”

“Just outside the room,” he said.  “They can come in after I finish my examination.”

I noticed that my bandages had been removed.  I raised my right leg, and saw it was missing below the knee.  “I thought my legs were cut off above the knee.”

“They were,” he said.  “You’re growing your legs back.  Your arm, too, and your face is healing.  If it continues at this rate, you’ll be up and around in twelve to fifteen hours.  Are you feeling anything unusual?”

“Unusual?  How would I know?  I am starving, though.”

“Not surprising.  You’re trying to turn about seventy pounds of flesh and bone into a body the size it used to be, but if I remember correctly, you weighed one twenty before.”  He lifted my gown and dispassionately examined my abdomen; I tried to look, but I couldn’t bend that way.  “No, don’t do that,” he said.  “You have no muscles to speak of there yet.  But I think your gastrointestinal system is in good enough shape for you to eat.  And I think you should.  What would you like?”

“McDonald’s,” I said without hesitation.  “Quarter Pounders, and keep ’em coming.”

With the examination over, Hyde let Frank, Sarah, Zoe, Troll, and Shawn back in, and left the room to give us privacy.  “I have some questions for you, Zoe,” I said.

She hung her head.  “I’m sorry, Polly.  I’ve been lying to you for months now… since you saved me.  You asked if I got any superpowers from the treatment, and I said I hadn’t.  But I did… I got the power to regenerate.”

“I figured that out, sweetie,” I said, smiling.  “I’m regenerating.  So what, the potion gave me your power?”

“It switched them,” she replied.  “I’m invulnerable now, and strong.”

“She is,” said Frank.  “Made me hit her, just like you did.  I swear I never hit a woman until I met you two.”

Sarah giggled, and then Frank and Zoe giggled, and I couldn’t resist laughing either.  There was an edge to the laughter, though… I had just cheated an ugly, painful death, and it was like that death was in the room with us, trying to spoil the party.

They moved me to one of the guest rooms, and let my friends come in with me.  By the time I was settled, Lightning showed up with several bags of burgers.  “Lightning, thank you!” I said.

“You’re welcome,” he replied.

“And thank you for saving my life.”

“I just brought you back here,” he said.  “If you need to thank anyone, your friend, here, seems to be the hero of the day.”

Zoe actually blushed when he said that.  “She saved my life first,” she said.  Lightning cocked his head sideways; I saw Thunder standing in the hallway, and Hyde looked up suddenly from his tablet, ever so slightly alarmed… but no one asked the question.  I saw on Zoe’s face that she knew she had made a mistake; she muttered something about needing to use the rest room, and went away for a while.

I ate until I was full, and then I slept.  When I woke up, I ate what was left, and fell asleep again.  The next time I woke up, Lightning came in and asked if I wanted more burgers.  I smiled at him and said, “How about Thai?”

Zoe was sitting on the bed with me when I realized I had toes again.  My fingernails had just returned, fast enough I could almost see them growing.  It was kind of fascinating.  Frank and Sarah had left when I was sleeping; looking at my phone, I saw that it was early morning.

“I’m sorry, Polly,” she said.  “If I’d thought about the fact that my power would cancel the morphine, I’d have warned you.”

“I just wish you’d told me about your power long ago.”

“I’m sorry about that too,” she said, looking down.  “I didn’t want to think about it.  I’m not like you.  I’m not cut out to be a hero.  What could I do, anyway?  You felt it.  Just because I can heal doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.  I didn’t get strength or speed or anything else… just healing.  I’d be a human punching bag.”

We both laughed at that.  “I see your point.  Still, Zoe, you can trust me.  You should know that.”

“I do,” she said.  “I will.”

“I think all my parts are back,” I said.  “Did you bring me any clothes?”

“Yeah,” she said.  She helped me get dressed, and with Troll’s help clearing the area, we left by the back door.

Zoe drove me to my bike; it looked very exposed just sitting there, with all the other vehicles gone, and then I noticed a parking ticket stuck between the gauges.  I started to curse, but ended up laughing instead.

I couldn’t retrieve my bagged civvies, though.  I couldn’t parkour up the building anymore… I mean, I still knew how, but I wasn’t nearly as strong as I had been.  If I was going to do parkour without my powers, I’d have to learn all over again.  Zoe said, “Do you want me to try?”

“No.  I’ll figure something out tomorrow.  I’d hate to lose those boots, but in the grand scheme of things they aren’t that important.”  I looked at her in the dim light of the alley.  “I’m still alive.  That’s what matters to me.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she said, hugging me.

I was very tired, so I rode home carefully.  The streets were almost empty, which helped a lot.  I went home and slept for hours.  When I woke up, Zoe was sitting on the chair beside my dresser, barely visible in the moonlight shining through the window.  “Watching me sleep?” I asked.  “That’s either sweet or creepy.”

She smiled at me.  “I couldn’t sleep, and I was thinking about you.  I don’t seem to need all that much sleep now.”

“Yeah, that’s a feature of my powers.”  I sat up.  “I wonder when Bob’s potion will wear off?”

“Soon, I hope,” she replied.  “Not that I mind being invulnerable… but these are your powers, not mine.”  She got up.  “I’ll leave you alone… sorry I bothered you.”

“Wait, Zoe… don’t go.  Stay.”  I patted the bed beside me, and she sat down.

“Thanks, Polly.  You’re a good friend.”

I snorted.  “You saved me, remember?  I’m the one who should be saying that.”

She laid down then, and we talked for a while about anything that didn’t involve heroes and powers and whatnot.  Eventually we fell asleep.