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Tiptoeing Through the Tulips

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On earth, in central Iowa, they call it the rain season; the season where water pours from above and spills over gutters, floods ravines, and batters at the soil. She's been on more planets than she can name and has seen horrors she'd much rather forget, but she's never seen weather such as this. All the places she's visited, it's either been a damn near lethal supply of rain or a lack thereof. Here, she's coming to find, it's much more manageable, much more easy to seek shelter and solace from the battering winds and gushing skies.

But even so, the onslaught of rain is flooding her section of the garden, and it's making the thought of harvesting anything from it become more and more difficult to imagine.

"My peppers are drowning", Nebula notes irritably, crouched between the rows of the Stark garden as she inspects her patch of sweet bell peppers.

Beside her, there stands Rhodey, with an umbrella in one hand and a can of lemonade in the other; he smirks at her, then, with a groan crouches so that they're at eye level. "It's your first planting", he says, a steady stream of rain trickling from the flaps of his umbrella. "It's gonna be tough."
"Morgan's doing fine."
"Morgan's been playing in gardens since before she could walk." He reaches out and sets a hand over where Nebula's palming at a smooshy pepper. "Give it time."

Nebula huffs, then leans back from her squat to take a seat. Her shorts are soaked and muddied, and, if her left hand were still her own, she'd probably be annoyed at all the dirt caked up underneath the nails. As it stands, though, she still has one good arm, and there's quite a coating of filth that's accumulated along it. "Pepper says this is supposed to be...relaxing, soothing."

"Yeah and so is everything else. Once you've learned how to do it."
Silence falls between them. Rhodey sits down beside her and stares out at their garden, at the streams of mud and tattered leaves sailing through the rows. Nebula follows his line of sight, watching the stream twist and turn until it meets the wooden enclosure and spills out of the holes that have been drilled into its sides.

"I don't know how to do this", Nebula admits quietly. She listens to herself, tasting the words and pulling a face at how stale they taste. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Rhoey watching her, wary, apprehensive, like they all are when she gets like this. Because he's hearing what she's said and listening for what he knows is missing: I don't know how to be normal; I don't know how to be a person.

Above them, the sky crackles and roars, splinters of white appearing over the forest of trees just a few miles out. Nebula traces the lightning, humming low in her throat in appreciation. Though earth has its fair share of shitty weather phenomenon, she can admit she's grown fond of some of them.

"You will", Rhodey eventually says, taking that moment to reach into his pocket and pull out a box of something.

Nebula turns her eyes to where his hand lays outstretched and smiles at the box of chocolate turtles she finds there. She pulls three out of their respective nests and ducks her head. "Thank you", she says quietly. And the afternoon passes without a word from either of them.

. . .

Tuesdays and Thursdays are dishwashing days for Nebula. It's...strange, she thinks, suddenly having not only the time to clean after herself but also others. Not so much unpleasant, she comes to realize one cloudy morning in early june, but more so different. Most her life, she's spent competing against others and just barely taking care of herself enough to fly a ship or negotiate a weapons trade .

Now. Now, she helps to keep the sink clean.

"There's a crack in this cup", Morgan says; she's sitting on the kitchen counter, drying the glass cups with more care than necessary.

"Did you tell anyone?"

"No, I don't wanna get in trouble."

Nebula looks up from the spatula she's cleaning and raises an eyebrow.

"I'm not supposed to play with the glass stuff", Morgan mutters with a pout.

Nebula's lips quirk up. She shakes her head, then, shaking the water off her spatula, holds out a hand to Morgan. "I'll take care of it", she tells her, taking the glass from her and setting it aside. "Just take it easy with the tea parties."

Morgan beams, then turns back to her drying.

It's something of a routine now. Tuesday and Thursday mornings, before Morgan rides out to camp and everyone off to work, Nebula rolls out of bed and walks to the kitchen to take a seat at the table. When the others have finished breakfast, she and Morgan tend to the dishes, sometimes the tables if there's time. Almost eerily, it reminds Nebula of past times, of previous missions, undercover as some waitress or a maid or something of the sort. 'Course, then, the primary objective wasn't to obtain the graces of the others but rather to slaughter them and make off with whatever it was she'd been sent to retrieve.

Anyway.

After that, it's just Nebula (and sometimes Happy) in the house. The house, which, during the day, when everyone's gone, seems bigger than an entire galaxy. Most days, she's too busy scrubbing the mirrors or sweeping the floors or organizing the pantries to ponder it too much. But every once in a while, when there's not a speck of dirt left to be scoured or shoes to be rearranged, Nebula finds herself with an unbearable amount of free time.

It's why gardening became so important to her. But with the rain season, there really isn't much she can do aside from making mudpies and poking at the roots of her peppers. And without her gardening...

"Nebbie?" Morgan's got her head cocked to the side, and her big, all-seeing eyes are staring at her perplexedly. "Why are you quiet?"

Nebula swallows. Her hands move to turn off the faucets before reaching for a towel along the oven handle. "Just thinking, little one", she murmurs, toweling her hands.

Morgan nods, then pulls her legs onto the counter. "What are you thinking about?"

"...about what I'm going to get from the store later." She turns to her and crosses her arms over chest. "Is there anything you wanted?"

Morgan smiles wide. "Gummy bears."

"All right." She picks Morgan off the counter, then sets her on the ground, playfully swatting at her as Morgan takes off down the hall. "Don't forget your pencil pouch!"

In a matter of minutes, everyone's dressed and filing out the door, taking off in big, yellow buses and sleek muscle cars. Nebula's left standing on the porch, waving and smiling until the succession disappears down the road.

And then it's just her. Her and the wind whistling through the trees and the water trickling from the gutters and the guttural sounds of a toad belching.

Nebula licks her lips and walks back into the house, absentmindedly reaching a hand out to catch the screen door. For a moment, she just stands there, in the hallway, looking into the house and counting all the lines and all the shapes that leap out at her. She does this until her head stops swimming and keeps at it until she finds herself growing bored. Only then does she walk to the fridge and remove the grocery list from the door.

. . .

There's about forty items, some a different color or in a different hand. She fills up her cart quickly, even with the bum wheel slowing her down. It's still early enough for the store to not be too crowded, so by the time she clears through the check-out aisle, only twenty minutes have passed. And Nebula quickly realizes she could have spent a lot more time ambling throughout the aisles of the dead ALDI so's to spend a lot less time around that big, empty house.

"Damn it." The cashier's passing her her change. As Nebula goes to collect it, her note slips from her fingers and onto the floor. "I got it", she murmurs, tucking her change into her purse. She pushes her cart aside, then squats. When she picks it up, the note is on its reverse side, and there, in what she's quickly come to recognize as Pepper's handwriting, is another note: "Whoever's on grocery duty today, make a stop at Wanda's, check in on her".

Wanda.

The Maximoff Sister.

Nebula's heard of her, or rather, overheard, in hushed conversations between Pepper, Rhodey, and Tony, always cut off once they've noticed someone listening. From the bits and pieces she's gathered from them, she knows Wanda's one of them, an Avenger. Although, given that Nebula knows less of her than their Space Captain, it's probably more of a reluctant title than one of actual want. For a moment, Nebula thinks, Like me. But then she frowns and shakes her head because she knows Wanda helps, assists, actively fights to keep her fellow teammates and Terrans safe.

And Nebula? Nebula won't even go into town with them and can barely keep their garden from turning into a runny pile of shit.

They're nothing alike.

"Ma'am", the cashier says as he's ringing up her next customer. "Your cart's blocking the aisle."
Nebula's eye twitches. She rises to her feet, lifts the bags from her cart, and nods. "Sorry", she murmurs, and then she scurries off.

Wanda's house is on the other side of the woods. It, along with their farm, is listed amongst their Emergency Sites. She's got it memorized, in ascending and descending order and in thirteen different Terran languages. She has a mental layout of where it is and what it looks like. But for all her knowledge of it, as Nebula drives the minivan along the pebbly road, she can't help but feeling like she's out of her league.

The walk up the road is a long and arduous one, with Nebula's steps growing slower and heavier the farther she travels. By the time she reaches the porch, her eyelids have grown droopy, and all traces of anxiety have fled, replaced, instead, with the unyielding desire to just turn around and leave the errand incomplete.

She's about to do so when the sound of a bolt unlocking draws her attention. The door peels open, and a pair of narrowed auburn eyes stare out at her. All at once, Nebula feels unsettled again.

"Hello", she breathes. "I'm-"
"Nebula", the person finishes; they huff, then slam the door shut before unbolting the lock and reopening the door. In the doorway, there stands Wanda, clad in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt that reads USAF Pararescue. She tugs Nebula across the threshold, then slams the door shut, setting about sliding the locks into place before turning to face Nebula. "Tony's friend."

Something in the tone of her voice has Nebula freezing, pausing in her place as a frown overwhelms her features. But before she can comment more on the matter, Wanda's turning around and stalking off, toying with the strings of her sweatshirt.

"She's a good kid", Nebula recalls Tony saying, with tired and heavy eyes. "And after...after everything that's happened, I don't blame her for wanting space."

With this in mind, Nebula purses her lips and simply follows after her. She's supposed to be playing nice, supposed to be making things better. Perhaps she can start here.

Albeit awkwardly, Nebula remains two paces behind Wanda until they come upon a neat sitting room covered with balls of papers. Wanda bends over to pick up one such ball, peeling it open and squinting inside before looking back to Nebula. "I'm not going to kill myself." At Nebula's startled expression, Wanda's face softens. She hooks her thumbs into her pockets and rears her head back. "That...is why you're here, isn't it? To make sure I haven't offed myself?"

"No." She sucks in her lower lip and looks away. "I just...wanted to get away for a minute."

"Oh." For a moment, Wanda stands there, watching Nebula. Then she turns her attention back to the pile of paper balls of her feet. Neither of them elaborates.

"Excuse the mess", Wanda murmurs, stepping through a pile of paper balls before sitting on the sofa . "I don't expect guests much."
Nebula nods. Then, feeling an abrupt, almost disorienting spell of dizziness, she yawns and leans her weight against the wall beside her. Wanda watches her, then does a quick maneuver with her fingers. Before Nebula can question it, a cup of something enveloped in red wisps approaches her. Nebula settles her hands beneath the cup and flicks her eyes to Wanda.

"There's a spell in the soil", Wanda murmurs; she picks a sheet of paper from between the cushions of the sofa and crumbles it up. "Something that saps your energy to the point of near unconsciousness. Unless you've taken this, you'll be affected every time you return."

Every time I returnThat means I can come back. Nebula licks her lips and thumbs the side of her cup. Porcelain, she thinks, the material Natasha's rather fond of. "Dainty and fragile", she recalls her saying once. "But also elegant and, if used properly, deadly." She still isn't quite sure what to make of that, but she is certain this exhaustion affecting her isn't of a natural origin. Nebula lifts the cup to her mouth and takes a sip.

"Thank you", she murmurs. She looks around the room, taking in the tufted rugs and the blackout drapes covering the windows. If not for the candles scattered about the room, they'd be completely enveloped in darkness. "Tony's worried about you."

Wanda rolls her eyes. She leans against the back of her sofa and folds her hands in her lap. "What else is new?"

"He wishes you would call more. He doesn't like you being out here by yourself." Upon finishing Wanda's brew, which tastes both sweet and salty, she lowers the cup from her lips and stares at Wanda. "You could...come to our-"
"No." The word comes out quick, sharp, uneven. Wanda's teeth have gone gritted, the muscles in her face taut. Her hand is clenched and her eyes tainted with sprinkles of red. She turns away, her brown hair flipping over her shoulder with the motion. She inhales, then rises to her feet, casting Nebula a carefully guarded look as she shakes her head and says, once more, "No".

Nebula blinks. "I thought you and Tony were friends."
Wanda sighs, almost deflating as the air leaves her chest. "My problem isn't with Tony. It's with his government." She stands still for a moment, her eyelids falling lower and lower until they open once more. She turns to Nebula. "Tell Tony I'm fine. And if that's all." She twists her fingers, and her cup leaves Wanda's hands, trailing after her as she takes off down the hall. "You can see yourself out."

. . .

She waits until later that night, when Pepper and Rhodey have gone out for drinks and Morgan's been put to bed, before approaching Tony. He's in his workshop, tinkering on some project or another for Peter, when Nebula slithers in. By now, he's gotten used to her silence, so when she turns up beside him, he does little more than rear his head back and blink. One look at her face, and he must know that they're in for yet another one of their talks because, in the next moment, he's pulling up a chair and setting aside his scraps.

"Wanda", he shakes his head, accepting the slice of raisin bread Nebula offers him. "Wanda's complicated."

Nebula takes a bite of her own slice and hums. "She says she has issues with your government."
The skin around Tony's eyes goes tight. "She has reason", he admits on a sigh. He kicks his feet up on the table and scratches the back of his head, his eyes getting that faraway look whenever non-Avenging Avenger business enters the conversation. "Ten years ago, give or take, a black ops group went on a scouting mission to Transia, looking for uranium deposits. Only, Transia and the U.S. aren't on amicable terms. So when word got out that we were snooping around…" Tony sighs and wipes a hand over his face. "Well; you could call it the straw breaking the camel's back."
Chewing around her toast, Nebula pulls her legs into her chair and looks at him. "Wanda's Transian. Isn't she?"
"Yeah. And she's a mutant, too." He folds his hands underneath his chin and sighs. "With the Sokovia Accords, there was call for her to, you know, get registered, pledge her allegiance to the UN, the likes . Wanda was willing to say yes, but her brother wasn't." His face hardens, and he lowers his eyes to stare at the surface of the table. "We can't prove it. But there were a lot of rumors about Pietro being approached by American soldiers and later showing up outside a hospital, filled multiple gunshot wounds."

Tony trails off then, and it's for the better, because it gives Nebula time to really take in what he's said. She takes it in, and she just sits there, replaying his words over and over again in her head until they become familiar.

There's a ringing in her ears. A ringing that comes and goes and sometimes stays but nonetheless one that she never fails to recognize. Years ago, it would come at the prospect of invading yet another planet and turning it to ruin or imagining besting Gamora in a fight. Now, it comes only at the memory of these things, of who, and what, she used to be. And as she's thinking of Wanda, growing up in a warzone and losing her brother, Nebula's afflicted with the knowledge that she, under Thanos and Ronan's tutelage, has probably made many lost, embittered souls like Wanda.

She swallows, and she keeps her eyes on where her hands are set on the table. "And...after?" Tony bites his lip, his eyes washing over to something tormented, guilt-ridden. "Wanda fled to Saxony, offered her help to Steve if he promised to keep her safe from our people." He finishes off the last of his toast, then pushes himself back, standing from his seat to walk over to the sliding doors before them. He stands there a moment, his outline upright and taut, before continuing. "When everything that happened happened and his team got caught, Wanda was sentenced to life at a remote prison facility. It took all the Avengers, our allies, the whole of Transia, and a fuckton of support from just about every civilization on the planet to get her pardoned." He turns then so that half his body is to Nebula and sighs. "And even then, the agreement only works if she's under our eye. And with Cap's people still being outlaws-"

"She still doesn't have much of anything."

Tony nods. Then, wiping a tired hand over his face, he smiles bitterly and says, "I don't blame her for holding a grudge. Given everything she's been through...everything we've put her though...I think she's entitled."
Nebula scowls. She hops from her chair and sits on the table, her back to Tony. She stares down at her hand, the cybernetic one, and considers all the planets and all the civilizations she's levelled just serving as an apprentice. She flexes a finger, listening to the groaning whirrs it gives, and takes in a deep breath, thinking back to the big, watery eyes of an Easik girl on a planet with no name. She sits there, feeling heavier and heavier as the ticking of her watch signals the passing seconds, imagining by just how many is she hated and wondering why she, of her and Wanda, was the one given a second chance.

Before she can fall much deeper, something collides with her temple, emitting a soft clink as it bounces off and drops to the floor. It rolls until it comes to a stop and falls on its head, revealing itself to be a one cent penny. Nebula cranes her neck around just as Tony sits beside her. "Penny for your thoughts?"

"I think this is what Peter means by 'extra'."
Tony just rolls his eyes. "Come on. Talk to me." His eyes soften, and he bumps their shoulders together. "What's going on?"

Nebula folds her hands in her lap and stares ahead. She keeps her frame firm and taut, like she was always taught to. But somehow, as the words gather on the tip of her tongue, she can't help but feel as if her exhaustion is showing.
How do you answer a question like that? How can you say what is wrong when you're "R&R"ing on a farm, with only a garden to keep yourself preoccupied, and yet, at the same time, so overwhelmed by the thoughts coursing through your mind that, most days, you just want to sleep until the hours fade away?

It's a question, a loaded question, one which she not the current capacity to answer. She hasn't the means to put what she feels into words, so she just says the first thing that comes to mind. Her throat tightens as she murmurs, "I miss space".

I miss my friends, my sister. I miss how simple things were there. I miss having neither the time nor the energy to think about people like Wanda.

I miss not caring.

Tony wraps an arm around her. If she were a person, Nebula would take delight in the heat emanating from his body, would seek it out like a lonely child seeks solace. But Nebula is not a person; she's a collage of scrap, random pieces of metal strewn together to maintain what little nature remains of her, like some grotesque science experiment. As it stands, all she feels is the clammy touch of human skin upon sensitive, aching metal.

She feels alien.

"Hang in there, bud."

Nebula closes her eyes. And, for a moment, she pretends she's a person and not the monster she was raised to be. She leans into him and stays there until she falls asleep.

. . .

The rain passes, and, in a brief, child-like fit of rage, Nebula snatches her peppers by the roots and tosses them in the trash. Morgan looks at her like she wants to say something, but Rhodey shakes his head and guides her away.

They're just seeds now. Tiny, miniscule, lifeless seeds that could be easily discarded and forgotten should she choose to do so. In a few days, the ones in the trash can will be rotted, picked clean to their cores as the insects have their way with them. In a few days, these'll be lucky to sprout a leaf.

In all her years, impatience has always been Nebula's downfall.

"This is your fourth planting", Rhodey says later in the living room, a checkerboard behind them. Rhodey's playing red, and Nebula's playing black, and neither of them are close to winning. "You're never gonna get a harvest in if you don't give 'em a chance."
"They were smush", Nebula grumbles, fingers hovering over one of her pieces. Her brows furrow, and she moves it a space ahead, flicking her eyes up to briefly note the twitch beside Rhodey's eye. "They weren't going to recover."
"But you don't know that." He purses his lips as Nebula creeps closer to one of his kings. Neatly, he picks up his king and places it within the walls provided by his singular pieces. "Planting season only lasts for so long. You ain't gonna have too many chances after this."
A cool feeling settles within Nebula's middle. She takes one of Rhodey's pieces, only to immediately lose one of her own, and props her head up in her hand. "I just want them to be perfect."
"It's your first harvest. They're not gonna be perfect." He goes to take two of Nebula's kings. But at the downcast set of her eyes and the slight droop in her shoulders, he hesitates, choosing, instead, to place a king in one of her paths. "If you quit throwing them away, I bet they'd still turn out nice."
"Mm hm." Nebula jumps his king and sets it beside her pile. Then she scoots a singular before his king, holding his eye as if daring him to ignore it. A warm smile crosses Rhodey's face as he jumps her piece, and Nebula ducks her head as she feels one of her own blossoming.

"The rains have cleared at least." He picks up his pack of pretzel M&Ms and taps a few into the palm of his hand. "That should make things a little easier."
Nebula huffs. "Unless we get a drought." She holds out her hand, and a half dozen M&Ms fall into her palm. She tosses them into her mouth, then swipes a hand over the checkerboard. Given the current state of gameplay, it was only a matter of time before Rhodey called it quits.

"How are you doing?"

Nebula shrugs and bites down on an M&M, her taste buds tingling at the battling sensations of sweet and salty. "Fine."

Rhodey looks at her like he doesn't believe her. He sets about scooping the checker pieces into the baggie, then folds up the board. "Tony says you won't have your...enhancements looked at."

Nebula pauses in her chewing to look over at him. "And?"

"And I saw you the other day." He sets the baggie in the box, then stands and walks to bookshelves lining the eastern wall of the room. "While you were walking up the stairs", he says, looking over his shoulder. "Your foot-"

"It's fine." Nebula bites clear through an M&M, and, this time, it's tasteless. "I spent the night in Tony's workshop and fixed it; I'm fine."

Rhodey turns around and leans against the shelves. "You need a doctor." His eyes take on a dark tinge, and, without ever exchanging a word, she knows he's thinking of the toothaches and numbness she once told him of. "And I'm not just talking cybernetics."

Nebula drops her elbows onto the table and huffs. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"

Rhodey holds her eye, as stubborn and bullheaded as she, before eventually sighing and walking over to her. "Neb", he starts, leaning against the table so that they're at equal eye level. "You hardly ever leave the house. And when you do, you're back within an hour, tops."
"I have no need to leave. And as for my enhancements…" Rhodey raises an eyebrow, and she looks away. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to meet with a doctor."

Some of the tension in Rhodey's shoulders eases.

Nebula brushes a thumb against her chin, then reaches across the table for the remainder of Rhodey's candy. "Did you have anyone in mind?"

. . .

The doctor's in upstate New York, at the Avengers facility. These days, it's mostly inhabited by doctors and technicians, working to better outfit and support the Team, as well as the increasing mutant population. Nebula's never been there, and though quite a few of the Starks offer their place as passenger, she denies the request and walks into the garage, where a Quinjet sits.

She straps herself in, flicks on the required controls, and takes hold of the steering wheel.

And does nothing.

She sits there, staring up and out of the windshield, her hands going a dark blue from where they're clenched around the wheel. She sits there, taking in the deep green evergreens stretching for miles before her and breathes because, stars, it's been a year since she's last flown anything. A year since she and Tony were drifting through space, just barely alive before the Space Captain retrieved them. If she hadn't have come along, they would have surely perished, lost and forgotten amongst the cosmos for all of eternity.

Nebula curses under her breath, then knocks off her headset, stumbling from her seat until she's kneeling on the floor; she tucks her knees into herself and forces in a trembling breath. She tries again, but this time, the air doesn't come at all, and she wheezes. She places a hand to her chest, searching her synaptic drive for the memory of complications in the respiratory system. She finds none, and something about the fact makes the breathing come harder. Nebula shouts and begins to search the cabin for an emergency kit. She's only been searching for a moment when her eyes suddenly fall upon a pair of leather boots.

Nebula frowns and looks up, feeling all thought go fleeting out of her head at the sight of an uncomfortable Wanda standing in front of her.

"Wanda", Nebula gasps, falling silent as Wanda lifts a hand coated in red wisps. Wanda crouches beside her, her hand extended and steady as she holds Nebula's eye. Nebula blinks, swallows, and nods shakily. Within a moment's breath, Wanda scoots closer and presses her hand almost close enough to touch Nebula's chest. Once there, the delicate tendrils of red unfurl from Wanda's hand and settle upon Nebula's chest. Nebula's cheeks flush hot, and she averts her gaze to the floor, ignoring the gradual loosening of the tight ball in her chest.

"It's a panic attack", Wanda explains quietly. Uncertainly, Nebula looks up and finds Wanda watching her with...not quite pity; sympathy, perhaps. "You're in no condition to be flying."

I'm in no condition for anything. "What are you doing here?"
Wanda's eyes expand just the slightest, and the wispy tendrils wrapped around Nebula's chest loosen before resuming their hold. "After your...visit last week, I figured I'd return the favor. Welcome to the neighborhood and all. Tony said you were going out of town, and I thought I'd catch you before you left."

Nebula looks at Wanda. Wanda looks at Nebula. In the back of her mind, Nebula can't help but thinking that, under better circumstances, she'd more than welcome Wanda's presence by her side, particularly on a flight to an unknown doctor.

But as it stands, Wanda's seen her sprawled out on the floor, panting and gasping at the mere thought of flying a ship after an already awkward introduction. At this point, any circumstance would be better.

"Your eye", Wanda says, lifting her hand. "It's-"
Nebula turns her head and huffs. "It's fine", she snaps before pulling away. The magic enveloping her tugs at the movement, but it hardly resists before she breaks free of its grasp. She turns her back to Wanda, crawling back into her seat and tucking her legs beneath her as she stares out, unseeing, at the forest on the horizon.

"Sorry", Wanda says, soft and tender, like Mantis after accidentally touching her. Nebula closes her eyes and bites her lip, something deep and archaic within her aching for her touch. She swipes a hand over her eyes, opens them, and then turns to look at Wanda. "What do you want?"

"I-"
"No smokescreens." Nebula scratches her palm and glares. "Why are you here?"

Wanda purses her lips. She pushes herself off the floor, then considers Nebula with a pensive eye, face carefully constructed so's to avoid accidental exposure. But even so, the next words out of her mouth are so sincere, so genuine that they almost make up for the supposed disinterest: "I wanted to see you."
Nebula, though surprised, doesn't miss a beat. "Why?"

Wanda holds her eye. "Your appointment's in an hour. We should leave now if you wanna be on time." She doesn't allow time for protest. Instead, she drops a hand on her armrest and raises her eyebrows. "Let me fly."

. . .

She lets her fly.

. . .

They don't allow them access. Not without a thorough, rather invasive, inspection, as well as a confirmation call to Tony. And even then, they continue to watch them with wary eyes. Nebula expects as much. Terra may have offered her asylum amongst their people, but they aren't used to seeing those that are not like their own; especially not those that are more artificial than they are natural. It's a fact she's come to accept, long before coming to inhabit Terra.

Wanda on the other hand…

Well.

Suffice it to say, Nebula will never understand how a species can so eagerly turn on one of their own.

"You're nervous", Wanda says as they're sitting in a waiting room with too bright fluorescent lights. Nebula raises an eyebrow, and Wanda just shrugs. "It's in your...aura, I guess. It's twitchy."
Nebula makes a noise low in her throat. "I think you'd get along fine with a friend of mine." She clampses her hands in her lap, listens to the sounds of laughter not far off from them; teenagers; they sound so happy.

"It's just a checkup", Wanda murmurs as she takes her phone out of her pocket. "Nothing gory or bloody."

Nebula tilts her head to the side, tuning her mechanical ear in and out to better capture the bubbly shrieks emitting from the room beside them. "What's a checkup", she asks distantly.

Wanda stares at her for a moment. Whatever it is she was going to say, it's lost to the door suddenly swinging open and a woman a lab coat entering the room. She smiles a Wanda, and Wanda smiles back, elbowing Nebula as she rises from her seat. Nebula does the same and, hesitating for only a moment, reaches out a hand. The woman accepts it, her eyes going wide at the rough shake Nebula gives.

"You've gotta be gentle, kid. You wanna make 'em like you, not scare them."

"Why would I not want them to be afraid?"

"Cuz if they're afraid, then they'll never get to know you."

"Thank you", Nebula says, willing a smile to her a face. "For agreeing to meet me."

The woman smiles and nods. "It's no problem. Any friend of Tony's…" Her eyes go down to her hand, which Nebula is still shaking. Nebula swallows and drops her hand, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. "You said your name was Nebula, right?"
"Yes. And you're Helen."
"Yeah. Uh." Her eyes flick to Wanda's, then back to Nebula. "Would you prefer the checkup alone or-"
"Together." Nebula rubs at the inside of her wrist and sniffles. She looks to Wanda, and Wanda nods. "She stays with me."
"All right. Well, come on then."

The room is small. Or, smaller than what she'd expected. And as she looks around, Wanda's earlier statement about a checkup comes back to her. There are no knives, no scalpels, no operating tables, no disinfectants. There's nothing. Just a desk, a laptop, some chairs, and a hospital bed.

Nothing.

"Have a seat on the bed and we'll get started", Helen says with a smile. "All right, now. Tony says you're experiencing trouble with your prosthetics?"
Nebula settles onto the bed, extending an arm or a leg whenever Helen indicates. "Most of them are fine. It's just my arm and my foot, the left one." Helen pulls up Nebula's pants leg and gently runs a hand along its length. On instinct, Nebula inhales and snatches her leg up to her chest, only to go wide-eyed and avert her eyes once she's caught herself. "Sorry", she murmurs, lowering her leg again.

"We go at your pace", Helen says softly as she gives her a squeeze. Nebula doesn't feel it. "Let me know if you want to stop."
Nebula nods, but she keeps all further discomforts to herself. By the end of her examination, Nebula's desperate to leap off the bed and seek comfort behind Wanda's smaller frame. But she restrains herself and, with a calm air, slides off the bed and walks to Wanda's side. At her desk, Helen's writing notes on her laptop, telling Nebula that the metal of her prosthetics have corroded and twisted and will likely need a quick but ultimately painless operation.

"Friday works", Nebula says, and Helen nods, rising from her seat to approach the door.

"All right. Just let me confirm it when my colleagues and we'll be all set. Be back in a sec."
And with that, Nebula's left alone, soothingly running her hands up and down her prosthetics. Out of the corner of her eye, she can make out Wanda watching her, like you would an animal in an otherwise civilized setting. Nebula turns to her, eyes narrowed, and asks, in a brisk voice, "What?"
Wanda just shakes her head and crosses a leg over the other. "You're in good health. All things considered, I mean."
Nebula raises her eyebrow. "Yes…"
"I was just wondering why you don't help us in battle. You'd be a good hand in a fight."

Nebula purses her lips. She swings her legs over the bed and hops off, walking over to the where a folder with her name on rests upon the doctor's desk. She lifts it off the table, thinking of another room, on another planet, with less kinder, less organized doctors. She's never had a checkup before, never had a file that reads "Nebula". In her hands, the folder, thin with the notes Helen's just taken, threatens to fall to the floor. She swallows down the rancid bile rising in her throat and sets it back on the table, her back to Wanda as she quietly but firmly states, "I don't do that anymore".

No fighting. No guns, no blasters, no knives, no nothing. That was before, that was years ago, when she had to do that, when her life depended on it, when the universe's life depended on it. Now, she has a chance, she has a choice, and she's chosen to be a regular, mild-mannered farmgirl, with a, with a family and a cottage and some peppers, if she can ever get herself right.

She doesn't fight anymore. She won't fight anymore.

"All right." Wanda's taken a step closer to her, her arms folded carefully over her chest. Her eyes are calm, understanding, if a bit surprised.

For a moment, they just stand there, watching each other. Then the woman, Helen, Dr. Cho, returns. She affirms their plans, bids them goodbye, then sends them off.

"That wasn't so bad", Wanda later says on the flight back to Iowa.
Nebula blinks and tilts back her head. "No. I guess it wasn't."

. . .

She heeds Rhodey's advice, gives her peppers time to grow, even when it seems like they're destined for failure. It seems to do them some good because this time around, they're making progress. Nebula arises from her bed one evening and goes out to the garden, a warm feeling in her chest as she palms the soft sides of her largest pepper.

"Nebbie, it's beautiful", Morgan says, latching herself around Nebula's legs.

Nebula blinks and pats her on the head. She looks up and at Pepper, who's watching the two with a fond smile. Nebula lets out an awkward laugh, then rubs Morgan's back. "Thank you", she says, then turns to look at Morgan's tomatoes. "Yours are coming in nicely as well."

Morgan beams brightly. Stomping her boots free of dirt, she then takes Nebula by her hand and guides her down the pathway, taking a left to where the pathway peels towards the back entrance.

"Hurry up, hurry up", Morgan shouts, quickly shedding her boots on the floor mat. She giggles, then takes off towards the kitchen.

"I'll be right there", Nebula calls after her. She takes her time with her boots, always careful not to track mud into the house, then disposes of her dirtied overshirt before following after her.

Morgan's already pulled up a stool to the fridge and taken the marker from its holder. She sits there, her feet kicking beneath her, and holds it out.

"It's your turn", Morgan says, gesturing to the sheet of paper on the fridge.

Nebula approaches, staring at the paper she's long since committed to memory. It's a timeline of sorts, one that's switched out, scanned and copied, and tucked away once the paper fills; it documents each Stark's gardening progress since the start of the planting season, with a cartoonish drawing of their face at the start of their column. Nebula's column, save for her past plantings, is mostly empty.

But now...

"My turn", Nebula repeats, gingerly accepting Morgan's marker and pressing it to the paper. She bites her lip, then looks down at her. "What should I write?"
"Whatever you want."

In a short, quick scrawl, she scribbles out "Peppers are ripening". Then, as an added measure, "And they look pretty".

Morgan gives her a thumbs up, then draws hearts and stars around the box.

"All right, now, that's enough gardening for today." Pepper stalks into the room, presses a kiss to Morgan's forehead, and smiles. "Run on upstairs, your dad's running a bath."

Morgan nods; she gives Nebula's hand a squeeze, then scrambles off her stool and onto the floor before dashing out of the room.

Pepper shakes her head at her, smiling fondly before she turns to face the fridge. Her eyes go to the sheet's newest addition. Her smile widens, and she looks at Nebula. "Better planting?"

"Morgan thinks so."
"Ah." She tugs open the fridge and begins rummaging through it. "Well, if she thinks it, then she must be right. She's got a real knack for this kind of thing." She peers up and over the door at Nebula, an eyebrow raised as she says, "I'm making sandwiches. Want one?"

"Yes. I can help."
Pepper pauses at that, regarding Nebula oddly before giving a curt nod and reaching for her supplies.

Wednesday, Nebula thinks absently. My turn to cook anyway.

In a matter of minutes, the kitchen table's covered in two loaves of bread, tomatoes, a package of ham, and half a jar of mayonnaise. They work, silently, the only sound being the radio playing in Happy's room in the back of the house. It's kind of nice, in a slightly awkward kind of way. The slicing of bread, the spreading of condiments, the synchronicity of it all. In a way, it reminds her of Gamora, of youthful days spent at the market, gathering supplies and loading them into rickety carts to trudge back to their ship. That was a simple time, before Nebula could really begin to understand her bitterness and hatreds. Before competition and betterment and inferior entered the picture.

Before she became Nebula.

"I used to hate mayonnaise", Pepper muses, smiling around a bite of sandwich. "It always tasted so...Nebula?"
Nebula inhales, drops her knife onto the table, and blinks. She takes a step back, hands held out peacefully at her sides, and shakes her head. "I'm fine."

"Are you sure-"

"Do you need anything else?"

Pepper gives her that look again. Before she can voice her thoughts, Nebula grunts and turns her attention to cutting the sandwiches into halves, the way they taught her. "We don't have mayonnaise where I come from. But we do have a-a paste, for engine repairs, that smells just like it." Her brow furrows as she murmurs, "You're not supposed to eat it".

"Nebula." Pepper places a hand on her shoulder and frowns. "Slow down."

Nebula heaves in a deep breath, clenching and unclenching her fists. Her chest is aching, her artificial heart lurching from one side to another at the sudden onslaught of duress. Her hand goes there, trembling, and she drops to the floor, tucking her head between her knees as her breathing goes rapid and without pace. Above the cloud of it all, she can just hear Pepper, speaking quietly and calmly, trying to get something through to her, but nothing's getting through, it never gets through.

"...ebula...take...time...right here...breathe...doing fine...not mad, just keep...keep breathing...keep-"

"-keep doing this. I don't understand. Just when I think you might be of some worth, some value, you choose to disappoint me, yet again."

"I am sorry. I did not mean-"
"You never mean to do anything...Pitiful creature, stop with the tears...Only the stars know what could have possessed me to be so kind as to rescue you from that miserable heap of a planet."
"He was dead! He was truly dead, I made sure of it. Sister, tell him-"
"I-"
"Do not grovel to your sister. This is your mistake and yours only. She was not impatient; she was not cursory; she was not selfish. She did her job, and she did it well. You? Well. To be fair, you did about as well as I expected you would."
"I'm sorry."
"Well, 'sorry' won't bring that man back. And it won't give you the credits that you would have used to buy your dinner."

"Nebula. Nebula, I'm sorry."

"Nebula?"

Nebula looks between the crevice in her arms. Pepper's watching her, calm, patient, quiet. When she sees Nebula is reacting, she sighs and, slowly, scoots closer to her. "Nebula", she says again. "It's okay. You're okay."

Nebula shakes her head and looks away, to the sandwich she'd dropped on the floor in her haste. "I'm sorry."
Pepper follows her line of sight. Then, moving so that she's blocking the sandwich, she shushes Nebula and whispers, "It's fine. We can make another".

Nebula chokes down a sob, and Pepper, slowly, wraps her arms around her, murmuring something that Nebula can't quite make out but very much takes comfort in. She folds in on herself so that she better fits within Pepper's grasp, her chest heaving and wracking, splintering and crumbling underneath the weight of everything. Pepper shushes her, then presses a hand to the back of her head and pulls her closer.

"It's okay", Pepper tells her.

Nebula shakes her head. Enough time passes so that the shadows and light of the sun change position. More than once, she can hear the sound of approaching footsteps, only for them to turn around and retreat. The longer she stays there, immobile and time-wasting, the heavier the weight on her chest feels because she'd been doing so well. Her gardening, her chores, her babysitting, she'd been earning her keep, and now she's worse than ever.

"Nebula", Pepper murmurs, rubbing a hand up and down her neck. "What's wrong?"

Nebula closes her eyes and wraps her arms tighter around her. "Sometimes, I think I can be okay. Then…"

"Nebula." Pepper presses her fingers against Nebula's chin, remaining quiet until Nebula looks up at her. "There's no rush."
Nebula narrows her eyes. A tremble sets in, and she pulls away, shakily crawling to her feet as she points her back to her. "I need to get over this", she says, pushing past what she knows Rhodey and Tony would tell her. "I've already spent enough time being useless."
"What-"

She slams a fist into the wall, sending pieces of marble crumbling to the floor in a shattering symphony. "You're letting me stay here", she says, her voice increasingly rising as she turns back to face Pepper. "For free and all I do is-is clean! I have to earn my keep!" She makes a move to step forward, only to hiss and shout as a piece of marble pricks the bottom of her foot. She follows the trail of marble to the wall, to where the material's crumbled in on itself and begun to spill over the matching countertop. Her eyes stay there, growing wide and remorseful until she's just left there, standing and staring.

"Why do you ruin everything you touch?"

"Nebula." Rhodey's stepped into the kitchen, standing in the doorway with a cautious set of eyes; eyes like the ones he uses when Morgan's found a pair of adult scissors. Nebula clenches her fists and inhales, taking a step back from Pepper, from Rhodey, from all the ones that could be hurt because she can't get her shit together. Pepper and Rhodey don't follow her, but they don't leave either.

"Nebula", Rhodey says softly. "You don't have to earn your keep here."

Nebula shakes her head and takes another step back.

"We want you here", Pepper says, ever patient, ever understanding.

What if that wall was her face? What if it was any of their faces?

"Nebula?" Morgan appears behind Rhodey's leg and frowns. "Nebbie, what's wrong?"

Nebula turns, breaks into a sprint, and disappears out the screen door.

. . .

She hitchhikes, tells the driver to drive and doesn't get out until they tell her to. By then, they've by driving for hours, and they've fallen underneath a new set of stars that just might be satellites. She turns to thank the driver, but they're already peeling off down the road, kicking up a mile of dust in their wake.

After that, she just walks. Walks until she comes upon a small town she recognizes from a trip to a comic book shop a few weeks back. Nebula goes in there, nods at the cashier, and walks to the back room. There's a new issue of Batman, so she pulls up a chair and takes a seat at one of the tables, combing through the pages with slow, gentle fingers.

Batman, Nebula thinks, rubbing a finger up and along the page. Now, that's a hero. A man who, trauma after trauma, keeps getting back up, keeps fighting, keeps moving. He doesn't let anything or anyone get him down.

And he doesn't hurt anyone.

"Ma'am", the cashier says as she pokes a head into the room. "We're, uh, closin' in fifteen minutes. If you're lookin' to buy something-"

"I want this book", Nebula says, not looking up from the table.

"Uh. All right." She folds her arms over her chest and jerks her head to the front. "Why don't you bring it to the counter, and I'll ring it up for you."

Nebula purses her lips. "I don't have any money."
"...'Course you don't. Look, miss, if you aren't gonna pay, I'm gonna have to ask you to-" She trails off as an explosion from next door rattles the foundations of the store. She takes off, and Nebula tucks the comic book into her jacket, rushing out the front door with her just in time to see the doors to the laundromat suddenly go flying open.

"Leave", Nebula says just as the cashier begins dashing the street. She ducks behind a park bench, watching as a man crackling with electricity stumbles out of the market with the collar of another man in his hand.

Her instant reaction is to freeze. Freeze and stand there, watching as the electric man shouts at the other, both halves of her heart pounding rapidly. As she's standing there, something in the sky catches the man's attention, something bright and burning and fierce. It swirls for a moment, spinning and undulating, before surging forward and slamming into the man and past Nebula.

It's only a split second, but Nebula's certain that the figure storming past her is Wanda.

And just like that, it's like a switch has been flipped. Nebula's hands go to her pocket, but she's retired, so there's nothing there. But she she still her wits, and she still has her instincts, so she rushes down the street, searching for a weapon.

"I didn't expect to see you this far north", Wanda says, holding her stomach after the man's knocked her off and sent her hurtling into a wall beside Nebula.

Nebula huffs, ducking aside just as a massive ball of electricity goes swirling past her. "I needed some air", she grits out; she rolls into the street, pries a sewer cover free of its hole, and tosses it at the man, grunting in relief once it hits him. "Why are you here?"
Wanda's summoned two spheres of psionic energy within her hands and twirls them about to catch the man's bolts of lightning. "I heard word of Electro kicking up a fuss. Thought I'd drop in and check it out."

Nebula purses her lips and is about to say something when Electro suddenly slices a telephone poll in half. He shouts, snatches hold of the top half, and then launches it Nebula's way. Nebula stares, frozen yet again, as the pole collides with her stomach and sends her slamming into the convenience store behind her. Above the ringing in her good ear, she can hear the sound of Wanda yelling and something exploding. She scowls and, with a lean forward, pries herself free of the bricks and falls to the ground. It's not too high, but it's enough to dislocate a few of her limbs.

As she's lying there, she becomes all the more aware of the ringing in her ears. And as the time passes, she realizes it's not a ringing but a whirring, like the sound of some piece of tech powering up. She looks up and sees Electro, twitching and spasming as his light wavers in and out of existence. With a shout, he disperses a large sphere of electricity, short circuiting everything surrounding them with so much as a spark of power. It's a strong blast, capable of sending Nebula tumbling down the street until she eventually slams into a fire hydrant and is left to stare at Electro's figure streaking across the sky.

He got away.

Nebula huffs, pulling herself into an upright position just as a shower of electricity balls comes raining down. Her eyes widen as she scans the street, ignoring the paralysis afflicting her non-robotic parts. Where's Wanda?

"Wanda", Nebula calls out. "Wanda, where are you?"

A hand falls upon her shoulder. Defensive, Nebula turns around, a fist raised to punch before she places the pair of dark red eyes staring back at her amongst the clearing smoke.

"Here", Wanda says, raising a hand. A giant twine ball of energy envelops them, like a blossoming flower, and shields them from the onslaught of lightning above. "Neb, I'm right here." Slowly, Wanda reaches out and takes hold of Nebula's hand and pushes something, something warm and fluid, between them and into her veins. Her face, usually so guarded and cold, is open and soft and full of concern, like a face in the midst of slumber, uncaring of watching eyes.

"You're hurt", Wanda says, like it's a surprise.

Nebula frowns. And with a few jerks, she pops her dislocated limbs back into her place, feeling little more than a mild discomfort as she puts herself back together. Wanda watches her, eyes clear in their disgust before an eventual relief fills them.

The meteor shower has ceased, but Wanda hasn't dropped her wall. Instead, the massive energy field remains, humming and gently pulsating like a sea jelly. It's...calming, in a sense. With it as the background, and Wanda's big, simmering eyes as the foreground, Nebula almost feels as if she's collided with the center of the universe, rendered ultimately immobile and mesmerized by what she's found.

And what she's found...is Wanda.

Wanda. Who, though gratuitous in her services, almost rarely ever directly assists the Avengers on a mission.

Nebula blinks and pulls back. And as if she knows exactly what's going on in her head, Wanda drops her walls, crawls to her feet, and takes a careful step back.

"You're spying on me", Nebula states; she squares her shoulders, stiffens her legs, narrows her eyes, anything to resume control of the situation.

It's not working.

"Just returning the favor", Wanda returns sheepishly. Then, seeing that Nebula isn't retreating, she sighs, places her hands on her hips, and nods in defeat. "I was worried", she admits. "Pepper called and-"

"You don't even know me." Nebula's voice has gone hard, brittle, but wobbly in some places like the crumbly foundation of a once sturdy building. Her arms are crossed over her shoulder, defensive like she only knows, and her eyes are darting about the street, searching for the cleanest escape route. Eventually, they settle upon Wanda and linger there, staring deep into Wanda's and trying to decipher her intentions.

"No", Wanda agrees. She shuffles her feet and then, softer, says, "But I would like to."

Nebula keeps glaring at her. By now, the static in the air from Electro's attack has begun to fade, and so has the tension that had begun to build up in Nebula's body. Wanda watches as if she can see this, and something about that upsets Nebula, upsets her because she spent years learning how to close herself off to others, and this woman can just read her with hardly any effort.

It upsets her. But at the same time...it intrigues her. Because it's been so long since someone's tried to read her without malicious intent. And standing there, watching Wanda slowly peel away at her layers, Nebula realizes, with a start, that she'd kind of like having someone like Wanda care about her like that.

"You could come over", Nebula says, the words tasting foreign on her tongue. "...for dinner sometime."

Wanda stares back at Nebula, looking as uncertain yet as hopeful as she feels. "How does tomorrow sound?"

"Perfect!" Wanda's eyes widen, and Nebula winces, shrinking in on herself as she clears her throat before continuing. "I mean. It sounds nice."

"Great."
"Great."

They linger for a moment, each staring, each not breathing, each not moving, until the sound of Nebula's cellular vibrating slices through the silence. They each take a step back and then turn and walk away, looking back only when they think the other isn't looking.

. . .

Nebula sneaks in a little past midnight; the porch light is on, and Pepper is sitting in one of the chairs. When she sees Nebula walking up, she rises from her seat and knocks a fist against the window above her. Immediately, Rhodey and Tony poke their heads out, watching as Nebula makes her way up the dirt road.

"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting."
Pepper walks over to her and grabs her by her shoulders. Nebula lets her. "Are you all right?"

Nebula blinks. She takes in a deep breath and says, "I saw Wanda".

In the window, Tony and Rhodey share a look. Nebula pretends she doesn't see it.

"Oh. Did you talk to her?"

"Yes. I-" She can't help it. The smallest, infinitesimal smile breaks out upon her face. But even so, it's enough to make them all stare at her in surprise. And underneath the gentle, heady glow of the porch light, she's certain the dark blue tint to her cheeks is quite prominent. "I think she likes me." Just saying it aloud makes both halves of Nebula's heart beat quickly, rabbity; she leans against one of the wooden columns, taking a moment to marinate in the feeling.

What a feeling.

"Nebs", Rhodey says from the window. He doesn't look concerned, more...curious than anything else. "You okay?"

Nebula nods. She tucks her hands into her pockets, swallows, and then gives them each a look. "I'm going to sleep now. If that's all right."

Tony smiles. "Sweet dreams, Avatar."

Too light to be frustrated at not recognizing the reference, Nebula walks past Pepper, into the house, and into her room. She crawls into bed, snuggling underneath her covers, and thinks of Wanda's place, a few miles down the road, and wonders if she, too, is falling to sleep thinking of her.

. . .

When Nebula stalks into the kitchen the next morning, hours after her alarm clock's gone off, Natasha is there, eating a slice of apple pie. Tony's at the stove, and Rhodey's reading some book or another, but once she steps in, all eyes go to her.

Nebula purses her lips and walks to the fridge, idly searching for her carton of milk.

"Have a good sleep?", Natasha asks with a smirk.

"Yes." She takes the box of Kix off the fridge, then sits it on the table before turning to the cabinets. "It's nice to see you."
"Mm." She forks a piece of pie into her mouth and nods. "You, too."
It's quiet for a moment, just the sound of sizzling bacon filling the air. Then, just as Nebula sets her bowl of cereal down on the table, Natasha turns to her and says, "I heard about you and Wanda's little adventure last night".

Nebula spoons some cereal into her mouth, fighting back a smile as memories of Wanda's frenzied eyes and battle-strewn hair come to mind. "Electro escaped", she says once she's regained her composure.

"It's taken care of", Natasha waves her off. "But Wanda-"
"What about Wanda?"
"Oh, for fuck's sake." Rhodey sits his book down and, a look of pure exasperation on his face, says, "Are you guys together?"

Nebula pulls a face, her cheeks heating up once more. "Together?"

"You have been spending a lot time together", Tony offers, holding his hands up at the scowl he receives. "Just an observation."

"And you stayed out pretty late last night. And when you came back-"
"You had the honeyglows", Natasha finishes. "So. Spill."
Nebula rolls her eyes. She twirls her spoon about her bowl and shrugs, thinking back to their short but intense battle together.

Battle. I fought again.

"I just needed some time alone", she eventually explains. "After...after yesterday. Then I found Wanda and I...I didn't need it anymore." She looks up from her bowl, and, upon finding everyone staring, quickly refutes, "But we aren't dating". Before they can say anything else, she quickly shovels the rest of her cereal into her mouth, drinks down her milk, and rises from her seat. She walks to the sink and begins washing the dishes. "I did, however, invite her over for dinner tonight. I'll be needing the kitchen for a few hours to get everything in order."
In the reflective surface of the wall before her, she can see Tony smiling. "So it is a date?"

Nebula flicks the water out of her bowl, then places it in the dishrack. "I...it is not a date."

Rhodey raises an eyebrow. "But you're cooking for her?"
Nebula huffs, tilts her head back, and just listens to the sound of water rushing from the faucets. "I just want her to have something nice."
"Mm hm."
She turns around, one hand on her hip and the other pointing a spoon between the three of them. ""Shouldn't you two be at work?" She turns to Natasha and regards her with a confused expression. "And you shouldn't you be in hiding?"
Rhodey shrugs, then stands and walks to the fridge. "We took the day off."

"And Wanda called me and the guys in; said it was an emergency." She smiles, flicking a piece of crust at the back of Tony's head. "You could consider it a day off, too."
"I didn't think outlaws took days off", Tony sneers, tossing a freshly-cooked piece of bacon Natasha's way. She catches it, then slides it beneath the crust of her pie, snickering at the repulsion that blooms across Tony's face.

"So can I have the kitchen tonight", Nebula asks; she takes the towel off the oven handle and dries her hands, avoiding the eyes of everyone in the room.

"Sure. Just clean up after you're finished. I don't want a mess come morning."

Nebula nods, then turns to leave but stops at Natasha's, "We're rooting for you, Nebs".

Nebula lingers in the doorway, her breath tight in her chest. She swallows, purses her lips, and takes in a deep breath. She says, "Thank you", and then she leaves.

. . .

It's not a date.

Not that Nebula would know, she's never been on a date, has only a vague, blurry sense of what constitutes a date, which is probably why she's so nervous now.

As she's fussing with her pot of beef stew, she thinks of Gamora, Gamora and Peter, and their silly little ship in space and how very uncertain she had seemed in it all. Uncertain, like she never was, like she couldn't navigate her way through the meteor shower that was their relationship, like she was striving for something and had no idea how to achieve it. Once, after Gamora had a few drinks one night, she confessed just how terrified she was and yet, at the same time, how happy Peter made her.

At the time, Nebula didn't understand, couldn't understand. She listened, tried, in her awkward, stiff way, to offer some advice, but she couldn't understand how a single person could make you feel severely out of your league in one moment and like the greatest thing in the galaxy in the next. Not in the way that Gamora described it anyway.

"Like-like a rolllllllller-coaster. You-you remember those, don't you, sister? We-we rode one on Xandar. We had so, so, so much fun that...that night. You even screamed, and I screamed, too, but it was sooooooooo nice...that's...that's how I feel with Peter. Isn't that strange?"

Yes, Nebula thinks as she waves a hand over her steaming pot. Yes, it is strange. She hadn't understood it then, but she understands it now, and, now, she finds it to be a horrifying thing. To both care for and fear someone and know that they won't use that against you. Particularly when you hardly know said person.

"I think it's that thing, Nebbie. I think it's love. I've got love!"

A nonsensical, irrational, yet undeniably addictable thing.

Oh, sister. I wish you were here.

Stars know if any of them could see her now.

Peter, Peter would just tell her to make a fucking mixtape and to take Wanda dancing in the rain; Rocket and Drax would be brutally sensitive; last she talked to Groot, he was heavily invested in romance novels, so there would probably be something there. And Mantis, of course, was always there to listen, even if Nebula didn't want it. And Gamora as well, though not overtly so.

Of course, that's considering that Nebula would even approach them. If she were to ask, she knows they'd all (even Rocket, after a good laugh at her expense) offer their assistance. And, after her prolonged vacation on earth, Nebula thinks more and more that she could talk to them on these sorts of matters.

If she wanted.

"Nebbie." Morgan tugs on Nebula's pants leg and holds up a wooden spoon. "I can taste-test."

Nebula nods; she takes the spoon, dips it into the stew, then hands it back to Morgan, watching, self-consciously, as Morgan's eyes grow wide with something she can't define.

"It's good", she eventually says. "Needs more garlic, though." With that, she crawls onto her stool and sits there as she watches Nebula fumbling with her stew once more. "Nebbie."
"Yes?"
"Why are you so nervous?"

Nebula's hand pauses, for just a second, before resuming its stirring. Then, tilting back her head, she sighs and says, "I don't have many friends".

Morgan pouts. "You have us."
Nebula snorts. "Wanda's a different type of friend. I think."

"What about in space?"
"Space is different, too."
For a moment, Morgan falls silent. Then, quietly, as if she knows she's treading lightly, she says, "Daddy told me you have a sister in space".

Nebula smiles and looks down at Morgan. "Really?"

Morgan nods and fumbles with her fingers in her lap. "I've never had a sister before." It's lower than before, softer, too. When she looks up, her eyes are wide with curiosity, like when she's crouched out in the garden and watching a new planting come in. "Was she nice?"

Something small but warm unfurls in Nebula's chest. She reaches an arm out, and Morgan crawls off of her stool. Nebula rubs a hand up and down Morgan's back and hums. "Yeah; yeah, she was." She adds some garlic to her stew, then offers her spoon to her. "I think...I think she would have liked you."

Morgan wipes the smear of soup off her lips, then reaches up and takes Nebula's hand in her own. "Really?"

Nebula keeps stirring. She smiles. "Really."

. . .

Wanda arrives at 8:03 pm. Nebula's upstairs, staring into the mirror and wondering if maybe her leather jacket's too brutish and her khakis too official when the piercing ring of the doorbell meets her ears. She gulps, brushes her sweaty palms down the sides of her pants, and then makes her way down the stairs. The house has already been cleared out, save for a note on the counter that reads "You got this". Nebula snatches it and stuffs it into her pocket, feeling both embarrassed and grateful as she stands before the door.

It's not a date.

Is it?

"Nebula. I know you're there."
Nebula inhales, unlocks the door, and pulls it open.

Wanda's wearing a pair of white shorts and a black shirt that reads Earth, Wind, Fire, and Air; she's got half her hair pulled up in a bun and the other half lying against her shoulder. Her eyes are focused on some spot over Nebula's head, and her hands are fidgeting at her sides. Beneath the glow of the porch lamp, she almost looks like something out of a folktale on her old holopads; something ethereal brought to life and yet, at the same time, something temporal.

Nebula's always sneered at the thought of anyone stealing her breath away. Now, she doesn't think she'll ever look at Wanda without feeling like someone's punctured her lung.

"Can I come in", Wanda eventually asks. Nebula steps aside, tightly gripping the frame of the door until she's gathered the air to ask, "Was the drive okay"?

"Uh, yeah. I almost-almost ran over a duck but." She scratches the back of her neck. "I think it was okay."
"Oh. Okay." Nebula tucks her arms behind her and awkwardly points a thumb to the kitchen. "I made soup."
"Great. Let's-"
"Yeah."

Nebula hates this part. Hates a lot of things about being a person, really, but this part is the worst. Hoping for something more but being stuck in this weirdness, this uncertainty, this awkwardness. When she hears of love, she doesn't hear people talk about this. She hears of the cuddles, the comforts, the pleasantries, hell, she even hears about the fights. But there's never any talk of what leads up to it, never any room for how to get there. And now that Nebula wants to get there, she finds she has no clue as to how to do so.

"Compliment her", she recalls Mantis saying to her long ago, on a walk to a mechanic. "I hear it opens for conversation". Of course then, they were talking about Gamora, and now it's Wanda, but Nebula thinks it's in the same vein.

"You're very brave", Nebula blurts out as she's pouring Wanda her second helping of soup. Wanda raises an eyebrow, and Nebula looks away. Her hand trembling as she scoops the stew into her bowl, Nebula says, "Helping. When not many have helped you before".

"Oh...Oh." A dark look fills Wanda's eyes, and she ducks her head, her spoon clanking loudly against the bottom of her bowl. "Right."

"If someone were to hurt me", Nebula continues on, speaking quickly as she senses Wanda drawing in on herself. "I would never consider helping them once more. And if I really wanted, I would hurt them back."

Wanda huffs. She lifts her spoons to her lips and takes a sip. "Well, me hurting anyone wouldn't do me any favors." Her face softens, and she looks up at her. "And you. You're a hell of a fighter. It's been a while since I've fought with anyone and...well...you fight good."

"It's been a while since I've fought at all", Nebula admits. "But thank you."

They fall into silence again. But this time, it's lighter, not quite as tense. The next time Nebula goes to the stove, she brings the pot with her and sets it beside them. They begin spooning the stew into their bowls, and, soon enough, they're just eating right out of it. Somehow, it makes the dinner more personal, more tender. Quite a few times, their spoons even clink together, and they share a glance, and Nebula thinks, I like this part much better.

"Natasha said you had an emergency." Nebula scraps some pieces of beef off the side of the pot; she glides her spoon through some gravy, then into her mouth, watching Wanda for signs of discomfort. She's pleased to find there is none.

"I don't usually do things like this", Wanda explains, pointing to the space between them. "She, Sam, and James were already coming to visit for the weekend, so I just asked them to come a little early."
"You were nervous."
"What gave it away?" She brushes a thumb across her lip, adjusts the scarf around her neck, and smiles, her eyes drifting to someplace far off. "I miss them", Wanda murmurs, dropping her hand onto the table. Nebula stares at it, at the peeling, red nail polish, at the pink scars standing out above the brown, at the tremors that have ceased. She stares, and then, without thinking, she drops her own over it. Wanda doesn't acknowledge the gesture, barely even looks at her.

But she doesn't draw it away.

"I'm sure they miss you, too."

Wanda's lips twitch as that. She turns to look at her then, and she's got that look in her face again. The one that's open and unguarded, like a sun peeking out behind storm clouds. Nebula feels like she's been caught in a ship's tractor beam, and Wanda's staring at her with eyes about as a sun.

Static feels the air once more. But this time, Nebula feels no compulsion to fight. She feels something else, something softer, and it's swelling up in her chest, and it's a really, really good feeling.

"Your appointment's tomorrow", Wanda says with three soft blinks. "Are you ready?" As she says this, she squeezes Nebula's hand, light and brief but just there enough for Nebula to know it wasn't just some flux of a muscle.

Nebula's eyes go from their hands to Wanda's face. She squeezes her hand back and nods. She's ready for her appointment. She's ready to push aside this pot, grab hold of Wanda's cheeks, and press her lips to hers. She's ready to go for a drive with her, into town, across the country, hell, across the stars. She's ready to give her everything that she has, everything that she is, and, maybe, just maybe give this whole domestic thing a shot.

You're getting too intense. You don't even know her.

No. But I could.

"I'm ready", Nebula says. And then they move onto dessert.

. . .

Nebula harvests the peppers late in August, just before Morgan goes back to school. It's a couple hours before dawn, before even Tony's awake, so she stumbles out of bed and into the garden and stares at the beautiful, beautiful vegetables that she has created. She pulls them from the earth and tucks them into a basket. The smallest, the one she'd been the most worried about, she keeps in the palm of her hand, brushing a finger over the curve of its body until the telltale sign of lights flickering on signals that it's time for her to go.

She steps through the sliding door and into the kitchen. Rhodey's pouring himself a cup of grape juice, and when he sees her, he smiles, rubbing the knuckles of his his free hand into his eye.

"Neb", he says with a nod. "You good?"

Nebula looks down at her pepper. She gives it a firm but gentle squeeze. She walks to the fridge and writes "Nebula harvested peppers today" in her section of this month's chart. She caps her pen, sits her basket on the counter, and smiles. "Yeah." She looks to Rhodey and nods. "I'm good."