A/N: So, I don't know what's got into me lately when it comes to Nebula and Rhodey. I just know that they are really fun to write for. I hope you guys like this. It just came to me the other day and I finished it pretty quickly (for me, anyway). Enjoy!
Nebula woke up with a start. Another nightmare.
Thanos. And his hands around her neck.
Nebula sat up in her bed and looked around, almost confused at where she was. But quickly it came back to her.
The Avengers compound on planet Earth.
She got up and looked out of the window. Three years. Three years since Thanos succeeded in wiping out half of the universe. Three years since most of the Guardians of the Galaxy died.
Three years since she lost Gamora.
Three years since she found herself on this semi-primitive planet.
And about two and a half years since she found herself actually being comfortable here.
She and Rocket made the decision to go back to space to continue the job the Guardians began. But she always wanted to come back to Earth. Much to her surprise, Rocket never argued with her. He'd make his obligatory sardonic comments, but he never outright argued or said he didn't want to come back to Earth. Even in the instances where they would only leave, take care of one mission, and Nebula would request they go back to Earth, Rocket didn't fight her. Sometimes, they would only be away from Earth for a couple of days before they headed back.
Nebula left her room, heading for the kitchen. She found herself enjoying Earth food. Pizza caught her attention the most. And cheeseburgers. Both items Tony introduced her to. Desserts such as ice cream and pastries were introduced to her by Steve and Natasha. Nebula walked into the kitchen and found Rhodey drinking tea at the table, causing her to freeze.
For the past year, every time Nebula saw Rhodey, she felt something strange. In a good way. She liked returning to Earth; it felt like home. She enjoyed being around Tony, Pepper, and their baby daughter, Morgan. But the past year, every time she and Rocket came back to Earth, Nebula wanted to see Rhodey first. And before they left, Nebula always made sure to see Rhodey. Even assuring him she would return, sometimes unprompted. But, often, he would ask.
Rhodey looked up at Nebula and smiled. "Hey."
"Hello," Nebula greeted. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you."
"What are you drinking?"
"Just green tea," he answered. "Hungry?"
Nebula gave a small nod.
Rhodey got up. The quiet of the night caused the noise of his braces to be easier to hear. Nebula was always fascinated by Rhodey's braces, and the Iron Man and War Machine armors for that matter. But where the armors were used for combat, Nebula always felt sympathy for Rhodey needing the braces. She always found him more honorable and heroic for needing his mechanics due to performing a noble duty.
"We've got…" Rhodey said as he looked in the fridge. "Huh. Not a lot. I think Thor was here yesterday. Which explains a lot. Great. Probably have to go shopping tomorrow." He looked in the freezer. "Oh. Cheesecake." He paused. "Nat."
"Will it be alright if we eat it?" Nebula asked.
"Do you want it?"
"She'll be okay." Rhodey put the cheesecake on the counter. "I'll make you some tea."
They sat and ate in silence for a while. Tony told Rhodey all about his time with Nebula and her personality. Where he first found her to be a bit strange, Rhodey quickly found there was way more to Nebula than met the eye. They had a discussion about her robotics before, and the reason she had them. After hearing her story, Rhodey couldn't help but sympathize with Nebula. And hate Thanos even more.
"Why are you awake?" Nebula asked.
Rhodey shrugged, "I have no idea. Just couldn't sleep. Happens to me, from time to time. What about you?"
"I… was asleep but… I just… awoke. I saw my father. When I awoke… for a moment… I forgot where I was."
He understood she would still be afraid of him. He had seen countless soldiers suffer from stress, despite being love removed from the battlefield. "Thanos is gone, Nebula. You're safe. You're with friends."
She nodded. "Safe. Friends. I'm not used to that."
"To be honest," he replied, "neither am I. When it comes to safe."
As they were eating, Nebula studied Rhodey, indiscriminately; a practice she implored with most of the Earthlings but she did it to Rhodey more frequently than she did it to others. She knew about his brace. But there was a question she hadn't felt comfortable asking before. But, now she did. Though she wanted to be sure.
"May I ask you a question?" Nebula asked.
"Sure," Rhodey replied.
"I… am not sure if it's… uncourteous."
"Don't worry about it. Go ahead and ask."
Nebula paused for a moment. "When… you fell…"
Rhodey looked down at the table.
"Was it… painful?"
Rhodey, vividly and ferociously, remembered the moment Vision hit him by mistake and he fell. "Yeah." He looked back at her. "But… not that much. After the impact, I lost consciousness. I woke up, found it nearly impossible to walk." He shrugged, "Tony made the braces and I got it back. Still hurts to know I can't do it without them."
Nebula looked down. She even felt guilty for bringing it up. She looked back at Rhodey, "I'm sorry for your pain."
Rhodey smiled a bit. "Don't be. Danger of the job. The planes I used to fly? I could've just easily lost my legs, or even my life, in one of those. At least now… I can still make a difference."
"True." Nebula looked down. "I wish… I could say the same."
"I think you're being too hard on yourself."
Nebula looked back at him, quickly, and declared, with rage and sorrow in her voice, "I killed, Rhodey! I murdered…" She let out a hard breath, "…for him!"
"And no matter what I've done or do next… I can't fix it. I can't bring Gamora back. I can't fix the lives I've ruined. I can't even…" She looked down, ashamed and enraged at herself. "I cannot even cry. And I don't have the right to. I don't have the right to feel sorrow. For all I've done… what I've become…" she looked at her hands, "this is what I deserve." She placed her hands on the table, clasping them together. "I'm a machine. Nothing else."
Rhodey studied her for a few moments.
Then made the bold move of his putting his hand on top of hers.
Nebula gasped, silently, as the gesture and her eyes met his again.
"You're way more than that," Rhodey reassured. "If you weren't… you wouldn't have been able to keep Tony going. You fought against Thanos. You're a Guardian and an Avenger. You and Rocket are doing your best to help everyone you can. Maybe you can't fix what you did… but what you're doing now is what you're supposed to do. You keep going. You do what you can now. And that's how you prove you're better than him and anything he did to you." He gently traced his finger across her hand. "Thanos may've replaced a lot… he didn't replace your soul."
Nebula continued to gaze at him. "Soul. I… can't… remember when I had one."
"Well, that's the funny thing about souls. We have 'em whether remember they're there or not."
Nebula looked back at their hands. "You… are always so kind to me. It… is… comforting."
"All of us have to stick together. And… you'd be surprised how some friendships are made."
"The existence of the Guardians proved that to me."
Rhodey chuckled, softly.
Nebula gazed at him. "Your kindness. It's… almost… uncomfortable. But… not a concern. I am simply… not… accustomed to… affection. It wasn't permitted in my life."
Rhodey thought about that for a moment. "In my life, I probably put that restriction on myself. Mission always came first. I put it first. I don't regret it. Most of the time. But I often wonder what would've happened if I went down the road not taken."
"I never learned it mattered." Nebula froze for a moment. "Until it was too late."
"Why do you think it's too late?"
"Gamora. She tried to love me as a sister. I was too consumed with revenge. With hate. Just one more thing I can never fix."
"Maybe," Rhodey said. "Doesn't mean it's too late. Just… let yourself start by having friends. I mean… you do have friends, you know."
"Yes." Nebula looked off, "I have… friends."
She looked back at him. "Forgive me. This… weakness is pathetic."
"It's not pathetic to say you're hurt. Trust me. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. All of us get hurt. Feel a little weak." He smiled a bit. "That's how you break Thanos's control for good. You allow yourself to be hurt. To be weak. But you keep going anyway."
"Even if it means I must confess my emotions late in the night."
"That's more common than you think it is. And yeah. There's nothing wrong with it. We all need to do it. We all need a little help sometimes."
"Your level of caring…" Nebula said. "It is… exceptionally comforting."
"Yours, too," Rhodey replied.
"Asking me why I was awake? And how you asked about my brace. You weren't trying to just get answers. You had a caring tone behind your question."
Nebula looked around awkwardly. "I… do… care."
"And that means a lot," Rhodey replied.
"Rhodey. I… have a request. And… you deny it if you wish."
"Ask. Let's see what happens."
"May I… hug you?"
Rhodey smiled. "Absolutely."
They both stood up and walked to the end of the table, standing in front of each other. Nebula, slowly and tentatively, wrapped her arms around his chest and neck.
She remembered the first time Gamora hugged her.
This was different.
In an amazingly soothing way. It was feeling Nebula was quickly finding herself wanting more of.
"Mind if I hug you back?" he asked.
His question took her by surprise. Again, in good way. "I don't mind," she whispered.
Rhodey slowly wrapped his arms around her waist.
Nebula felt a calm she had never felt before wash over her. She let out a quiet sigh. Rhodey found himself in more calm state than he was used to, as well. He thought Nebula would feel colder, but he found the exact opposite to be true. After a minute, they loosened the grip and looked at each other.
"Thank you," Nebula said.
"My pleasure," Rhodey replied.
They let each other go, though parts of them didn't want to.
"If, um…" Rhodey cleared his throat, "…if you can't sleep again, just tell me."
"I won't disturb you, if you're asleep," Nebula replied.
"You won't bother me at all."
Nebula looked away, nervously. "And if… if… I just… wish to speak with you?"
"We can do that, too. If you want. Doesn't have to be late at night either. Anytime you want."
"Yes. That would be… nice."
"Alright," Rhodey smiled. "We'll… figure something out."
"I think…" she said, "…I'll be able to sleep a bit easier."
"Good to know," he replied.
Nebula slowly backed up. "Good night, Rhodey."
"Good night, Nebula," Rhodey said.
Nebula turned and left the kitchen, heading back for her room. She felt at far more peace than she had in a very long time. Even feeling like should sleep through the night.
Rhodey held his smile. He didn't see any of the events of this evening coming. But he was a long way away from complaining. He turned to see Natasha walking into the kitchen from another entrance. She was smiling and had her arms folded.
From her smile and body language, Rhodey could tell easily. Natasha heard, and probably saw, everything.
Natasha raised an eyebrow. "Well, okay."
"Shut up," Rhodey smiled.
"Tony and Steve are never gonna let you live this down."
"Do you have to tell 'em?"
"We need some good news around here."
Rhodey rolled his eyes.
Natasha looked at their plates. "Was that my cheesecake?"
"I can explain…"
A/N: So, there you have it! I have no plans to do anything more with this story, right now. But, you never know. If you guys like it, let me know! I do want to do more Nebula/Rhodey stories but we'll see. Anyway, for now, take care, guys! Don't forget to follow me on my social media and check out my book, "Tatsu Angelo: Ronin Days"! Thanks and see you all soon!