Fandom: Guardians of the Galaxy
Summary: Nebula is living with the Guardians on the Quadrant, for now. She has a cybernetic arm. Rocket has noticed.
Notes: A little while back there was some discussion on tumblr about the scenes in both movies where Rocket wants to steal someone's prosthetic body parts. We don't know yet if he'll be attempting to get his hands on Bucky's arm or anything like that when we next see him, but some fans think the running joke crosses a line, and wanted to see a Rocket who has changed his ways and lost interest in other people's mechanical parts. Given the amount of time that's elapsed in canon, we're not going to see the process of it even if his character does develop in that direction, so it's up to the fanfiction writers.
Personally, I took those jokes at face value - Rocket's a dick, he's a thief, and he has no concept of normalcy; it adds up - and I also found them hilarious, which is enough to justify most anything in my mind. Still, though, challenge accepted. Here's how I think he would get over it.
Gamora had seen the signs, and unsure of what else to do about it, she took Nebula aside to warn her. “Rocket has a history of...that is, he’s prone to...” She sighed and shrugged. “He might try to steal your prosthetic hand. He thinks it’s funny.”
What she wished she could say was that she and the other Guardians understood why Rocket had that particular vice. And that they were helping him work through his issues so he could see why it was wrong and stop doing it. She was sure it had something to do with his own experimental origins, and she had tried to bring it up with him delicately, but she wasn’t delicate by nature and Rocket certainly wasn’t receptive to anyone addressing his vices. The Guardians weren’t therapists. Loving each other could only get them so far.
If anything, though, Nebula looked amused at the idea. “And you’re telling me this so I won’t be taken unawares?” She flexed the fingers of her cybernetic, contemplating it. “I can handle Rocket.”
Gamora gritted her teeth. Loving Nebula could only get her so far, too. “No, please, listen. If you and Rocket fight, I don’t know who would win, but I know you’d both be hurt badly, and I don’t want--”
Nebula made a pacifying gesture. “I would win. And I won’t hurt him.”
“He’s got some personal problems. We all do, but we have to forgive each other to make this work.” It was a concept that Gamora was still getting used to herself. She hoped Nebula, with her habitual retreat to revenge as a coping mechanism, could make a place for it.
“I said I won’t hurt him,” said Nebula dismissively. “But I can deal with it myself, so get your nose out of my business.”
Gamora conceded. She didn’t have much hope, but what was the worst that could happen?
Rocket had claimed the engine room, not just because he knew what to do in there better than anyone else, but because he could disappear between cylinders or take a weapon in for dismantling and nobody would know whether he was busy with something important, or if he was just hiding.
He had made one corner a workshop, and he was there, not hiding, when he heard someone coming up behind him. He knew it was Nebula, but she announced herself anyway: “Fox.”
“Stop calling me that,” he growled, reaching for a tool to finish gutting one of the crankshafts he had decided was obsolete.
“Fine. Rocket. I have something for you.” She crouched down next to him, and before he could ask any questions or tell her to leave him alone, she had released the catches on her left forearm and removed her hand, placing it down on the metal floor with an audible ring.
He stared at it, then up at her. “The hell is this about?”
“I heard you wanted it. So here it is.”
“Go screw yourself.” Rocket returned his full attention to the crankshaft, trying to hide his sudden discomfort.
Nebula stood up, leaving the hand at Rocket’s side. “Well, anyway. It’s yours now.”
As she walked away, Rocket took another sidelong glance at the unwanted gift and then burst out, “Take this thing with you! I ain’t here to collect your scrap limbs!”
She ignored him completely, opening the door with her right hand and a shove of her left shoulder. Rocket was left alone in what was supposed to be his personal place, but the hand changed everything. There was no fun in obtaining a prosthesis if it was given freely. Was that why Nebula had done it? Was she mocking him? Was this just a preemptive way of ruining it for him so she didn’t have to play the game?
He bared his teeth unconsciously, his hands still working without his mind on them. He didn’t like being on this end of a prank. There had to be some way to come out on top.
“Hey Nebula, are you gonna eat with us tonight? I’m just doing a headcount ‘cause we’re ordering in and they need more notice if it’s over -- whoa what happened?”
Nebula turned a frosty gaze onto Peter. “What?”
He gestured, concern painting his features. “Why are you using that Captain Hook thing again? Did your hand get smashed or something?”
“No. I gave it away. I’ll join your crew for dinner.”
She walked away before he could ask any more questions, but she did join them for dinner. The Quadrant had a mess hall with long tables, and Peter liked to get as many Guardians around one as often as he could. This time he had all of them, but the victory was dampened by Nebula and Rocket sitting across from each other, Rocket staring as if perpetually on the edge of a screaming fit, Nebula acting as if she didn’t even notice.
By now, everyone had heard the explanation of why Nebula was holding her fork with a simplified clamp, although it didn’t actually explain anything. There probably would have been an uncomfortable silence, except that there had never been an uncomfortable silence in Drax’s presence as far as anyone could recall.
He laughed heartily, and Rocket turned his glare onto him instead of Nebula. “Dude, shut up.”
“It’s a joke!” Drax proclaimed. “I’ll explain it to you and you’ll see it’s funny. Nebula ‘gave you a hand’. That’s a way to say that she helped you. But this time, it’s both literal and metaphorical. Because she gave you an actual hand.”
“It’s not metaphorical,” insisted Rocket, “because she didn’t help me!” He threw down his utensils onto his plate and put both hands flat on the table, facing Nebula. “I don’t want your hand and I didn’t try to take your hand and I’m gonna throw your d’ast hand out the airlock if you don’t take it back!”
Peter cleared his throat. “But you have to admit, Drax has come a really long way with common verbal expressions.”
Gamora, sitting on Nebula’s left side and thus closest to the temporary claw attachment, dropped her forehead into her hand. “Rocket, all of this started because you liked stealing prosthetic body parts.”
“Yeah, but not because I wanted to keep ‘em. It’s funny when you steal something. It ain’t funny when someone just gives it to you.” He added something almost under his breath: “I hate when people give me things.”
“You can buy it from me,” said Nebula suddenly. She sounded completely calm, and she hadn’t stopped eating while the others were arguing. She glanced up at Rocket. “Give me some money. Whatever it’s worth to you.”
Rocket was bristling, but his rage seemed somehow incomplete. Peter had the strange feeling that he was more likely to burst into tears than lunge at Nebula. “It ain’t worth nothin’ to me,” he spat. “That’s my whole point.”
She shrugged. “Then you’ve received it for nothing. So it’s all fair.”
The uncomfortable silence finally came, although Drax was chewing, so it wasn’t necessarily an exception to the rule. Rocket kept his murderous eyes locked on Nebula’s for another long second, and then turned away and jumped down from his chair, leaving his food barely touched.
Three days passed. Rocket kept the hand somewhere in his own bunk, out of sight, but his short temper and avoidance of Nebula showed that it was still on his mind.
Nebula showed no sign of tiring of the challenge, if that’s what it was. Gamora brought it up with her tentatively one day when they were planetside doing some legwork on the latest potential job. “I think you’ve made your point. He won’t try to steal any parts from you now.”
“No,” Nebula agreed. “Not from me. I suppose that means you don’t care if he steals from anyone else.”
Gamora sighed, because of course she cared, but she hadn’t exactly been counting on her sister to solve this. “Are you waiting for him to do something? If you won’t take it back, I’m not sure what he can do.”
“He can talk,” said Nebula. She was wearing a heavy coat, which probably had more to do with a desire to hide herself and less to do with the snowy surroundings, but either way it looked strange on her in Gamora’s eyes. Her hand and claw were shoved deep in her pockets, and she only looked forward as she walked. “That’s what you Guardians do, isn’t it? Talk.”
“I suppose that’s the idea,” Gamora allowed, wrapping her arms around her own coat. “With Rocket, though? Good luck.”
Nebula exhaled, leaving a trail of steam in the cold air. “You act like you barely know him. I don’t need luck.”
“So,” said Peter casually, kicking back in his seat on the Quadrant’s bridge. “I saw Nebula trying to tie a knot today, and she was having a really hard time with it. Is that funny?”
Rocket, absorbed in the controls across the aisle, or pretending to be, shot him a scowl. “No. Shut your trap.”
“She kind of tilts whenever she has to climb a ladder, is that funny?”
“Dammit, Quill.” Rocket clenched both fists and sunk his head between them, drawing a deep breath. “I don’t know why everyone’s gotta be on my ass about this. You saw me try to give it back to her.”
“Yeah,” said Peter, “but you never said you weren’t gonna try to steal it if she hadn’t given it to you. So, why would that be funny if this isn’t? I just want to get the joke.”
For a moment he thought Rocket was going to storm off again, but instead there was a short pause, and then: “When someone gets somethin’ stolen, it’s ‘cos they weren’t careful with it ‘cos they didn’t want it enough.”
Peter knew better than to point out the flaws in that logic. He nodded and waited.
“An’ if you’re so dumb you get a whole piece o’ your own self stolen...” Rocket snickered, then laughed out loud. “Come on, Quill! That’s hilarious! It’s like if you woke up one day and...and your dick was gone, and you were like ‘oh no, where’s my dick, it was right here!’”
“Dude, that’s the example you’re gonna go with to show me it’s funny?”
Rocket rubbed his face as his laughter died down. “Well, it’s not like I’m ever gonna try an’ chop off your parts. If it’s flesh and blood it hurts and you can’t replace it, so it’s different. Obviously.”
“You have artificial enhancements,” Peter pointed out. “What if someone tried to steal them from you?”
“Only way to get those outta me is by goin’ back to the start. Let ‘em try to get me under the knife again.” He didn’t seem fazed by talking about it, but his voice could only be described as deadly.
Peter tried again. “Okay, but same as what you said: what if you woke up one day and all your cybernetic body parts and everything you weren’t born with were gone?”
He hadn’t really considered what that would mean in real-world terms before saying it, but the next few seconds gave him a chance while Rocket was doing the same. Peter preemptively flinched, but Rocket simply answered, “Climb a tree, I guess. Look around for some food. Take naps.”
“Sorry,” Peter muttered.
The voice came from overhead. “Hey.”
Nebula looked up at Rocket, who crouched atop one of the large pipes that ran through the Quadrant. He might have been following her for some ways, or he might have come out through the nearby ceiling-level vents, but it was clear either way that their paths hadn’t crossed by accident. She raised an eyebrow instead of returning his greeting.
“Can I have the rest of your arm?” he asked. “It’s fake up to the shoulder, right?”
She crossed the metal limb with the organic one, gave it a second’s thought, and then said, “I can’t remove it without a procedure. It’s wired to my cybernervous system.”
“That ain’t a problem,” said the raccoon innocently. “I got all the tools in the med bay and I know what to do. I fixed up Gamora’s internals a couple times, you can ask her.”
“Alright,” said Nebula. “If you’re sure you want it.”
“I do!” Rocket jumped down from the pipe to land at her side. “If you’re sure you wanna give it to me.”
He led the way. Nebula avoided overtly looking down at him, but she could see that his tail was twitching, and the falsity of his casual tone had been clear from the start. She didn’t bother hiding her smirk; he was avoiding looking up at her, too.
“So you just, uh, sit down there,” said Rocket when they had reached the med bay. “And I’ll get all the stuff ready.”
Nebula seated herself on the operating chair that he had indicated. “What are you going to use the arm for?”
He began sorting through some items in a drawer, his back to her. “Nothin’. I mean, I just wanted it. Like I said. Why, is this a bad time for you to go amputee? You want to keep it longer? It’s okay if you wanna keep it longer.”
“No, there won’t be any better time. I have nothing that needs to be done right now. I might as well have one arm.” She sat back and rested her metal arm on the tray adjoining the chair.
Rocket’s agitation was growing as he turned around to face her, but he was still trying to hide it. “Okay, well, I’m gonna enter your biological data and the formula for the alloy into the computer so it can identify the severance points.”
“Okay,” she replied.
“And then I’m gonna set up a magnetic field for the metal to release into.”
He was staring intently at her. “And then I’m gonna take your arm off.”
She tapped her claw languidly against the tray. “What are you waiting for?”
Rocket turned to drop a tool back into the drawer and closed it with a noisy rattle. He looked deflated, and his voice dropped an octave and lost some pretense when he spoke again: “You must really hate that arm. Is it because Thanos gave it to you?”
“If I hated this arm, I could have been rid of it much sooner.”
He threw his hands up. “But Thanos did give it to you! And you do hate Thanos! You don’t make any sense, you freakin’...senseless...blue person!”
Nebula sat up straighter, taking her arm off the tray and settling it in her lap. “I don’t hate Thanos for giving it to me. I hate him for making me need it.”
“You just said you didn’t need it,” Rocket sulked.
“No thanks to him.” She gave him a sidelong long. “It’s a tool. If it does what it’s designed to do, I don’t think about it one way or another.”
There was a subvocalized growl, so low-pitched that it was hard to tell that it came from Rocket except that his expression matched the sound. “That’s a load o’ bull. You got redesigned by some piece of evil and now half of you ain’t you and the other half ain’t got nowhere to go but along for the ride, and you’re pretendin’ like you don’t even care.”
Nebula wasn’t even tempted to snap back at him. She shrugged. “Not everyone’s mania looks like yours, beastman.”
Rocket shuddered violently and his eyes filled with tears, the first thing he had done that startled her at all. His voice came out as high as a child’s. “Stop makin’ fun o’ me! It ain’t my fault they gave you stuff you didn’t want! Ain’t my fault if everything you ever had was only ‘cos they let you have it. And you used to be real but now you’re just someone else’s property you had to steal from them…” He scrubbed both hands over his eyes in furious circles, then stomped a foot and demanded, “Why am I talkin’ about this!?”
“Probably because you needed to,” she sighed, swinging her feet down to the floor. “All of you idiots apparently have that in common. How about listening instead, for once?” She held up her cybernetic forearm in front of her. “This isn’t me.” She put her other arm parallel to it, hand clenched in a fist. “And this isn’t me either. These are parts of my body. It doesn’t matter how I got them; they’re mine now. But if they’re taken from me, I’m still me.”
As she dropped both arms he kept a dull gaze on the prosthetic one. “So why’d you want to give it away, if you’re not mad at it?”
“Why did you want to have it, if it’s just stuff?”
Rocket snorted. “Oh save it, you know all I was doin’ was tryin’ to call your bluff.”
They both seemed to relax the moment it was out in the open. Nebula cast him a sly smile. “Same here. It looks like I won.”
There was a three-legged stool by the operating chair, and Rocket pulled himself up onto it and sat like a human, legs hanging in front of him. His ears were pricked curiously toward her. “Aren’t you gonna ask if I tossed your hand like I said I was gonna?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Nebula replied. “There’s a whole box of spare hands in the Quadrant’s storage.”
Rocket’s eyes widened. “So why the hell have you been usin’ that claw?” he sputtered.
She made her face and voice completely expressionless. “Maybe I just thought it was funny.”
He groaned, but when he shook his head, he was grinning. “You get it. You’re the only one out of all of ‘em who gets the joke.” The grin vanished as quickly as it appeared. “But I ain’t never heard you laugh. Not once.”
“It was hard to hold onto myself,” Nebula explained. “I did it, but laughter takes something I lost along the way.”
“What, apathy? Hope? Havin’ people around to laugh with you?” He looked more skeptical with each possibility listed.
Nebula shook her head. “Courage.”
Rocket’s whole upper body heaved with the breath he let out. His eyes were bright and solemn as he said, “Please let me give you your hand back.”
Nobody asked them any questions when they returned to the main cabin together, Nebula fitted with the cybernetic hand she had given away the week before. Rocket rubbed absently at the external bolts on his collarbone, as if he had just noticed that they were there.
For months after, whenever they met someone with a prosthesis, Nebula would look at Rocket and ask, “Do you think we should steal it?” and he would respond, “Nah, he prob’ly needs it more than we do.”
Then they would smile, as if sharing a private joke.