We have only each other to talk to on the ship. He likes to talk. It is good; I like to listen. But if I am too quiet for too long, he asks me questions. He smiles at me like he cares how I feel. It makes me uncomfortable. But some part of me wants to trust him. I answer his questions. I tell him things about myself. He tells me about his life. He is engaged to be married to a woman named Pepper. He tells me all about her. He misses her. I try to imagine having someone who would miss me that way, but I cannot. I hope, for him, that they will be together again.
“Have you ever had those kinds of feelings for anyone?” he asks during one of our talks. I shake my head.
“No?” he asks, trying always to draw me out.
“I have not had the sort of existence that allows me to concern myself with romance.”
“That’s so sad,” he replies, sounding empathetic, not pitying.
“From what I’ve observed of others, romance is a source of pain more often than anything else.”
“Yeah,” he nods, “it can cause a lot of pain. But it can be worth it.”
I turn away. I believe him. But I know it is something I can never have.
“And sex? Have you gotten to explore that at least?”
“Of course not.”
“What about masturbation?”
I turn back to him with a cold stare.
“I do not think you understand.”
“Explain it to me.”
“I am not,” I cannot stand to look at his face when I say it, “real.”
“What? I’m looking right at you.”
“I am not a real woman. Maybe I was born real, but Thanos made me into nothing but a machine. Machines do not get physical pleasure. I am a thing.”
Suddenly his expression is guarded.
“Nebula,” he says carefully, raising his shirt to show the metal device that holds his disassembled armor.
“You told me that is detachable.”
“Yeah, this one is. But it didn’t used to be that way. I used to have a piece of machinery that was a part of me. It kept me alive.”
I do not know what he wants me to say.
“Wasn’t I real then? Even though my life relied on a machine, a machine that was a physical part of me? Didn’t I still deserve physical pleasure just as much as I would have without the machinery?”
I see the point he is trying to make now. But I still do not know what to say. I look at him, look into his eyes. They are less guarded now. He has that expression like he is trying to teach me something; it is patient, but not condescending. I have seen it before and have come to find it bizarrely comforting.
“Much more of me is metal than a mere piece of my chest,” I tell him.
“That isn’t the point. How much or how little machinery is a part of you isn’t the point.”
I understand this in theory.
“What does it feel like,” I ask in a voice that isn’t meant to sound so small, “to have an orgasm?”
He’s quiet for a few minutes, and he looks like he is trying to read my face.
“Do you want me to try and tell you, or do you want me to try and show you?”
I stare back at him. I cannot determine if he is sincere. Could it be a joke?
“What about Pepper?”
“She wouldn’t mind. We have an open relationship.”
Part of me is relieved to hear that, but at the same time I cannot believe he would want to touch me that way.
“Why do you taunt me?”
“I’m not,” he says in a voice that is earnest and kind. He moves to sit closer. I let him.
“So, do you want me to try and show you?”
“Yes,” I admit.
He smiles and turns my face toward his. Where I am metal, I cannot feel the contact, but then he touches my mouth, softly with his fingertips. I draw in a sharp breath. He strokes his thumb over my bottom lip, and I stare at his face.
“Does it feel nice?” he asks.
I nod, because it feels so nice that I can’t speak. I have never been touched this way. I want to feel his fingers on more of me. I want to feel his lips on mine. Desire is rushing through me and I don’t know what to do.
“It’s okay,” he says gently, “if it’s too overwhelming.” He pulls his hand away, “we don’t have to do anything.”
“No,” I say with more emotion than I have heard in my voice in a long time. I grab his hand and press his fingers again to my lips. “Please,” I whisper against them, “please, keep going.”
“Tell me if you want to stop and we will right away.”
“I will tell you.”
He smiles and reaches for my good hand. He glances up at my face, then interlaces his fingers with mine. I do not know if I should let myself show how much I like it.
“Do you like this?” he asks as he holds my hand with a light grip.
“Do you want me to kiss you?’
I am frightened, and it is embarrassing. I hide my fear because I don’t want him to stop. He looks into my eyes and places his hand on the back of my neck. There is a metal plate on my upper back, and I feel shame when his hand finds its edge. But he doesn’t recoil, just shifts until he is touching the flesh above it.
“Are you ready?”
“Close your eyes,” he tells me. I do. “Relax your mouth,” he tells me, and I realize I am holding my lips tightly closed. I part them and take a deep breath, and after I have exhaled, I feel his lips land on mine.
A thrill I have never before known runs through me, and I press my parted lips to his. After a time, I feel the tip of his tongue slip past my lips for just an instant. I want more, but he breaks the kiss.
“Did you like that?”
“Yes,” I reply. I hear eagerness in my tone.
“I just want to make sure.”
I feel his nearness again, smell his scent, and then feel his lips reunite with mine. He kisses me with movements that grow increasingly firm, but not rough. His tongue is in my mouth. Cautiously, I slide my tongue into his. He makes an encouraging sound of enjoyment against my mouth and I feel glad knowing he is taking pleasure in me as well.
When he pulls away again, I open my eyes. He strokes my face, the metal and the flesh.
“I cannot feel you through the metal, you know,” I tell him with poorly hidden sorrow.
He stares into my eyes. He positions his palm over the metal on the side of my face. I feel ashamed.
“It’s okay,” he tells me, and he leaves his hand there as he kisses me again.
“I cannot feel it,” I whisper, mourning what Thanos took from me.
“Can’t you though?” he asks.
I do not understand. I stare at him questioningly.
“When I had the arc reactor in my chest, it had no nerve endings, so I couldn’t feel through it in a literal way, but I learned to feel through it in a different way.”
He moves my good hand to cover his.
“Close your eyes again.”
“Now, think of my side of the touch. Imagine what you feel like against my nerve endings.”
“Cold?” I ask in that small voice.
“Solid,” he corrects me, “and like you.”
I don’t say anything because I want to snatch my hand away, yet at the same time, I never want the contact to stop.
“Feel my hand under yours?”
“Imagine that the sensation I feel from touching the metal part of you travels up through my hand to yours till you can feel it too.”
I try, but I can only imagine him feeling like he is touching an object.
“It’s okay,” he says softly after a few minutes. He takes his hand from my face. “It can take a while to learn.”
I nod and open my eyes. I look down at his hand. I think, maybe, almost, beautifully and impossibly, I can feel its echo against the metal it touched.
“Kiss me again,” I tell him.
We kiss for a long time. He is so kind to me it makes me ache a little.
“Do you want me to take off my shirt?” he asks eventually.
I stare at his chest and nod. He strips the shirt and I admire the top half of his form.
“Should I remove mine as well?”
“Only if you want to.”
I do want to, but I have another metal plate on each of my sides and a third on my lower stomach and, despite his positive attitude, I am ashamed to reveal that yet more of me is machine.
“Only if you want to,” he says again.
“I do,” I answer, and I strip the top half of my outfit. I avoid eye contact as he looks at me, but he takes my chin in his hand and turns my gaze to meet his.
No one has ever said that to me before, and I can feel myself smile without meaning to. He smiles back at me and kisses me once more.
“Let’s lie down,” he suggests.
I lie back and he positions himself over me.
“Is this okay?”
I think he is going to kiss my lips again but instead he moves to my throat. He plants soft kisses over the skin, trailing his mouth down between my breasts.
“Do you want me to touch your breasts?”
He cups a hand around one of them. His touch feels velvety. He pauses and looks at my face and I nod. He runs his thumb over my nipple, and it puckers. He lowers his head and touches it with the tip of his tongue. I gasp, and he pauses, though his hand still cups my breast.
“Keep going,” I urge, “I will say if I want you to stop.”
“Promise you’ll say?”
“Yes, I promise. Keep going.”
He gives me an appealing smile; it is a smirk, but it is kind. He brings his mouth back to my nipple. The skin on his lips feels thick, but silky. He runs his tongue along my areola over and over, and I can feel the dampening between my legs. It is something I have only rarely ever felt before, and have always discouraged immediately, angry at my body for its betrayal, for distracting me from what I was made to do, for making me feel like a real woman when I knew it was a lie. But, this time, I let the wetness happen, without the anger. He sucks my nipple gingerly into his mouth.
“It feels nice,” I tell him, wanting very much for him to know of my enjoyment, though I am not certain why.
He replies by increasing the pressure of his suck on my nipple and laying his free hand beneath my other breast. He slides his hand up to cover it and begins to massage the flesh with perfectly applied pressure as his mouth continues to pleasure the nipple of the first breast. I hear my breath coming faster. He keeps going until I make a small sound, one I have never heard myself make before. I realize after the fact that it was a moan.
He switches breasts, his mouth and hand trading places. He brushes his thumb lightly over my nipple. It is still sensitive from when his mouth was on it, and I make the sound again.
He stimulates my breasts until I am panting and making the sound over and over. Then he raises his head and looks into my eyes.
“Should we take off the rest of our clothes? Do you want to?”
“Yes,” I say at once, “you first.”
He stands to strip his pants and the underlayer beneath.
I stare at what has been revealed. His penis stands erect and the realization that I am the one who drew that lust from him makes me shiver with a startling need.
“You don’t have to take off yours if you don’t want to.”
“I do want to,” I say, feeling shy, mostly because there are three more metal plates to be revealed on my thighs and one on my calf. But he has yet to recoil, and so I stand and remove the rest of my clothing.
“You’re beautiful,” he tells me again, and I feel myself smile wider than I mean to. He moves close and wraps his bare arms around my waist. They rest against the metal plates on my sides and wrap around to my lower back, where I still have skin. I like that he is touching both parts of my surface at once, the skin and the metal, and acts as though it is all the same to him.
He pulls me in for a kiss and I find myself kissing him back fervently. I press my body flush to his, but I am alarmed by the feeling of his erection against my hip. I break the kiss and shift away. I think his penis is very appealing to look at, but I am not ready to have direct contact with it, at least not tonight. I suddenly worry that I have already obligated myself to bring him to orgasm as well.
“Don’t worry,” he says, “I can take care of that myself later if I need to. This is about you. Lie back down,” he instructs. Relieved, I lie down, and he kneels between my legs.
“Would you like me to lick your pussy?”
I am startled by the suggestion, yet I nod eagerly without giving it a thought.
“Promise you’ll tell me if you want me to stop.”
“I have already promised you that,” I say, a little annoyed because I have grown impatient, “but yes, I promise again.”
“So, how do I,” I ask tentatively, “make the orgasm happen?”
“You can’t force it. Just let yourself relax and focus on the sensations. Don’t worry about the orgasm. It’s okay if you don’t have one. We can try again another time. Just relax. Okay?”
“Yes,” I reply, though I am not certain I understand.
He positions himself over me again. He looks into my eyes. I find his eyes to be beautiful, and I wonder if he likes mine. He kisses me very softly, without his tongue this time, then gives me a small smile that is so reassuring it overwhelms me for an instant. I smile back at him and he looks very pleased. I am glad to have pleased him. He shifts his position and kisses a line between my breasts and downward. I feel a sense of panic when he approaches the metal panel on my lower stomach. I fear that, when his lips touch the metal part of me, he will recoil at last.
But as it turns out he kisses over the metal in the exact same way that he kissed over the flesh. I feel a twinge in my chest - an emotion. Never have I known such acceptance of this poor excuse for a body. Never could I have imagined such appreciation of my form.
Down past the metal plate there is flesh again, and he looks up at me before he continues. I nod and he presses a kiss to my mons pubis, then continues his downward line over the outer lips of my vagina. I inhale sharply. He holds his head still for a moment, and I feel his breath on me. Then I feel the tip of his tongue trace a soft line along where he had kissed. My body jerks from the shock of it, and he pauses again. I press my hips back toward him. He slips the tip of his tongue between the lips of my vagina the way he had earlier slipped it between the lips of my mouth - briefly, but not suddenly. He waits for another moment and I hear myself make a needy sound. It embarrasses me, but he must have liked it because he moans against my flesh.
“It feels nice,” I say, ready for more.
His fingers part my outer lips and he gazes at what he finds there.
“Beautiful,” he tells me, then drops his head and I feel it - his tongue, light and still against my clitoris. I buck my hips and moan louder than I yet have. It feels like his passion is running into me, flowing through his tongue, coating me with warm light.
“I like it,” I tell him, and he begins to lick me with gradually increasing pressure, sweeping the flat of his tongue back and forth over my clitoris and using the tip of his tongue to draw circles around it. I close my eyes to focus on the sensations. I couldn’t have imagined what it would feel like. I try to notice every instant of contact and memorize it precisely. I cannot always tell exactly what he is doing, only how good it feels. I open my eyes and bring my good hand to his head and stroke his hair. I don’t know why I do it, but it soothes me, and I feel myself relax the way he said I should.
“Good,” he whispers against me.
I have to moan at that, at the vibration of his words so near to my sensitive flesh, and at the striking thrill drawn out by the moment of praise.
“Good,” he murmurs again, and I cry out. No one ever tells me that I have done well. But I am pleasing him. I feel myself start to rock my hips and curl my fingers around a handful of his hair. He clasps his mouth around my clitoris and sucks at it while his tongue moves in zigzagging lines and I feel something beginning. It is like energy gathering in my pelvis. It feels so good it is frightening, but I remember what he said, and I try to just relax.
It takes me over then, like nothing I have ever felt - a wave of sparks, an explosion of power, a shiver of bliss that radiates outward from my clitoris and dances over every speck of my being -and I feel so real I want to cry from the joy of it.
It is only after the orgasm ends that I realize how loudly I have been moaning. He climbs up my body and lies beside me and pulls me halfway onto his chest.
“Did you like it, Nebula?” he asks in a soft voice.
“Yes, I did. Tony.”
I feel like I have more to say about it than just that - I want to tell him that it was profound, that it was a gift like no other, that it made me understand myself in a new way - but I think, perhaps, he knows, and so I just lie against his chest and let him hold me in his arms.