Who: Nebula, Tony What: catching up in the lab Where: Avengers Tower When: backdated! early April
It had been a while since he was back in the top floor lab, and Tony was feeling the urge to kiss Dum-E and U, and then rub himself all over every piece of lab equipment or countertop that he could. He vowed to stop short of dry humping. So no one would be walking in on that. Thank goodness.
Basically, Tony felt like he was home. Sure, the penthouse was home so far as Pepper and Morgan were there, and he left his socks all over the bedroom. But this was where his best ideas played. It was his techno playground.
Now he was open for business. Friday was letting visitors in and out again, whereas before it had been on a strict lockdown, dark and unnaturally quiet.
"Friday, rev up the javabot. I need a bucket of espresso," Tony said, hands already in motion like he was conducting an orchestra. Multiple windows popped up, and he began to spin a few grid blueprints around that he was working on while at home. Stark hadn’t been specific about when she should visit his lab to look at visuals of alien weaponry -- and possibly have a rematch of paper football -- beyond waiting for him to return. Nebula had established a habit of monitoring various areas of the building and was therefore aware when the lockdown had been lifted. Calling ahead or booking an appointment didn’t even occur to her. She used the stairs, because exercise at any opportunity was preferable to waiting for an elevator and being still, and reached the appropriate entrance shortly thereafter,
She wasn’t wearing the blue pantsuit she’d worn to meet with Pepper, which was the vintage Ali MacGraw look. She had added another outfit for a total of two Terran options, courtesy once again of Amazon. Nebula paused while Friday performed whatever security clearances were required or made an announcement of her arrival. Once the door opened, she strode into the lab dressed in tight-fitting, boot-cut blue jeans, her usual space boots and a tight, short-sleeved, black t-shirt with the words ‘Cute but Crazy’ on the front in a nice, white script. It might have looked odd, given her true, blue appearance, but it worked well for her red-haired Human illusion.
Not that she really cared.
“You’ve been cleared by the medics, I assume,” she said in her husky voice, watching Tony as he sorted and spun holographic windows, which displayed various notes and designs. "Cleared for business," Tony replied, turning around and leaving the holograms in mid air. At a glance, it looked to be fifty percent suit redesign (yet again) and fifty percent nanorobotics. "Resting is harder than working is."
He looked her over. Not to oogle, but to get a read on the overall demeanor. It was the usual dark-eyed appraisal he gave everyone, equal parts inquisitive and wary.
Nonetheless, Nebula passed muster. He nodded and grinned at a familiar face. It wasn't every day that a guy nearly died on a ship in the middle of outer space with another person. That bred a familiarity that could only be borne out of shared trauma. Even if that was in another universe.
"Looking good. You're blending in really well, huh?" He pointed at the t-shirt, wagging that finger around to gesture to the rest of her ensemble. "It's punk lite. You've dialed it back so it's not overkill. Nice job. How's everything in the apartment? You doing good in there, or is there anything you need? If there is, we can add or subtract anything. Say the word." “Punk lite?” she echoed crossing to one of the windows and studying the contents. It was good to see him again, even if the memories of trying to restart a dead ship, playing paper football and carrying a dying man to the captain’s chair, a fitting, dignified place for a hero to die, were part of a narrative belonging to another universe.
“To respond in order... I have no idea if I’m blending in. I chose this t-shirt as a form of warning while attempting humour. The accommodation is fine and I want for nothing. My basic needs are cared for. And you don’t have anything available to you which would make it possible to add anything I might want.”
Nebula turned her head to look at him then, performing an assessment similar to the one he had given her. He looked better than he had when they’d been stuck on the ship in that other place. Less haggard, perhaps. But there was a tightness to his eyes and a tension in the way he stood which indicated to her that he was still dealing with the emotional toil of his latest brush with death. If she wasn’t good at reading body language, she would have been killed long ago. Also --
“You need caffeine,” she determined, her eyes coming to rest on his. Memories provided the various ways in which Tony Stark functioned, and there were signs that he hadn’t consumed any coffee yet. This was not good. He blinked. Hard. A sudden smile burst forth and his eyes lit up at the mention of coffee.
"Yeah, you're blending in. Guessing Senor Mischief gave you an illusion spell. Anyway. I had to avoid coffee for a while. Heart issue." He drummed his fingertips on his chest, over the suit's housing compartment. "I've got like...a million nanobots running around in me right now, so everything's running ok again. I mean, for the most part. Obvs, I can't go eating a shit ton of burgers or mac and cheese every day. I'm keeping it down to once a week. Or every other week. If I see another salad, I'm going to hurl."
He walked over toward the javabot that was right next to an office door. He didn't use the office often, except to make phone calls, and spent the vast majority of his time out in the lab space. It was more open and he could move around, spread things out, and it was easier to think. Confined spaces and him were not friends after his impromptu vacation in Afghanistan or on the Benatar.
"Have you tried coffee yet?" he asked her. "One of the best things on this planet. Sandwiches are a close second, if you're into that whole eating gluten thing." Stark spoke very quickly, almost to the point of rambling, but at least he made sense. She was reminded of how Quill rambled, hence the comparison she’d made to Pepper. He didn’t always make sense, though.
Nebula managed to parse the various short-hand he was using. She raised one eyebrow and turned her whole body to watch Stark as he crossed the room.
“Loki, yes. Eating shit would be detrimental to your health. Are you aware of the issues that can arise with nanotechnology?” They could ‘fix’ things that didn’t need fixing. Depending on how smart they were, they could make some poor decisions on your behalf, all for the better, using their definition of ‘better’. Nebula slowly walked toward the interesting piece of equipment, which reminded her of the vending machine she had to kick in order to feed a serious addiction of her shipmate, Drax. “Yes, I’ve had coffee. It is good.” Tony did a double take and smirked at the shit comment, barking out a laugh as he gave the javabot a pat. He put in an order for two freshly roasted cups of Jamaican Blue Mountain and leaned back against the counter as the javabot got to work.
"Yeah, I'm guessing the universe has some pretty effed up nanobots. But I'd trust anything me and Bruce do these days, before I'd ever trust Loki to put an illusion on me. What'd he make you look like, anyway?" It was good to hear him laugh. In the other universe, he was dead, having made the ultimate sacrifice to save them all. To save the universe. It made her throat tighten a little just to think about it. The coffee machine, for that was its purpose, had an aroma completely the opposite of that damn vending machine and it was a welcome distraction from the memory of his final moments there.
Nebula gestured with her index finger to circle the air, indicating the totality of the unit. “This is an interesting way to prepare a cup of coffee. How many different kinds do you have?” It seemed like a safe topic and it was obviously something Stark would be happy to discuss. Next, she reached for the pouch on her belt and the mobile device she had been assigned. Activating the camera feature, she held it roughly at arms length, snapped a photo, and turned the camera to show him. “For those who have never met me, this is what they see.” It wasn’t a glamourous shot, of course, unlike some selfies she had seen on the Internet, but very here and now and plain, just as she was right that moment, only not blue. Or cybernetic. Just a Human female. Tony's rambling was, more or less, one way he dealt with a ball of anxiety that could go from golf ball sized to giant snowball rolling down the Himalayas in under sixty seconds. He was constantly in motion, almost as though he was trying to fend off the memories of dying in another universe. Those were permanently embedded like he actually experienced it, and if that wasn't enough to internally freak someone out, he wasn't sure what could.
"Twelve or thirteen, and it can do blends. Soooo...a lot." Once they were brewed - his in a handmade mug with a smooth purple gemstone on the handle - he put them down on the coffee bar, next to all the creams and sugars. If Nebula knew coffee, she probably knew what she liked in it. While he did that, he happened to glance at the picture on her phone and promptly did a double take.
"Whoa. So he wasn't a raging dick? Nice disguise." A quick thumbs up and he said very conversationally, "He threw me out a window once. But he was influenced by the glowstick of destiny. Or so I've been told like...two Valkyries ago." As he stirred some stevia into his coffee he grumbled under his breath, "I don't even know what my life is anymore. Besides weird." Random memories surfaced sometimes and surprised her still, despite the massive upload she’d experienced on the Benatar. The experiences were clear and always there, but something she saw or heard someone say would trigger --
Best not to think about it.
Frowning slightly, she closed her phone and returned it to the pouch, moving to her designated mug, but not adding anything to it. She liked it black. Nebula did turn it by the handle to read the inscription before picking it up: ‘Changing the World for a Better Future’.
“Raging dick? Is that a Human male euphemism for ‘hard and desperate for intercourse’?” Then she leaned against the counter and calmly took a sip of her coffee. "Ha ha ha no," was Tony's reply, as he stirred the coffee and took a quick sip. "Raging dick is like...did anyone ever call someone else an asshole in space? A raging dick is someone who's way more of a jerk than just an asshole. So it's like a step up. If there was a leader of a group of assholes, that'd be a raging dick."
Tony Stark was a bountiful fount of information and jargon. He also looked perfectly at ease with Nebula around, which was pretty mind blowing since this universe hadn't technically put them through the same wringer. It was hard not to act like it had, though.
"So how'd it work?" he asked. "When you remembered. Was it a mass download crammed in your head or were you asleep? Or do you sleep. I don't even know. I don't remember you being asleep at all when we were trying to fix that ship. I only would when I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore." “Ah, I see,” she said. Sometimes Quill could qualify as an asshole, but not a raging dick, based on the definition Stark just supplied. “I am enlightened.”
Nebula sipped her coffee. “This is good,” she said and a small sigh escaped her. “I sleep, but I don’t need very much and I can delay the need. I was on the Benatar and I had a headache that just…” She gestured with her free hand, expanding her fingers all at once to mimic an explosion. “I received all of it. Everything. I… lost consciousness. Woke up on the table.” Nearly broke Drax’s wrist and choked Rocket. “Apparently, Quill and Drax remember as well, but the fox and the tree do not.”
She turned her head to regard him. “You are very skilled at engine repair for someone who was Terran-bound before your journey to Space.” Of course, it wasn’t this Tony Stark, but all things considered, it might as well have been. "Ooof, awake. That's not harsh at all." Tony took a longer sip of coffee and his thumb began to rub over the stone on the handle of the mug as he thought things through.
"I'd be a bad engineer if I couldn't problem solve," he admitted. He looked over at her as though doing that very thing, thinking of what it could have possibly been that caused her to lose consciousness. "Probably overloaded any processors you have in there, when the universe bitch slapped your brain. It's pretty selective who finds out and who doesn't, so there's only a very small number of us who know. And everyone else? Nothing. Build-a-bear... or Rocket...whatever. He just kind of smiles and nods but I think he's really plotting about seventeen ways from Sunday on how to blow us up, and rip off everything we own."
After a few seconds of contemplation, he asked, "Maybe you should let us take a non-invasive scan of your mods, in case you ever need something fixed. If it's damaged. I..." He wanted to say he felt like he owed her. He knew his other self did, because Nebula gave up food instead of eating it herself, and took care of his other self when he ran down to do anything but sleep. "I want to make sure you're taken care of too. In case something happens. You're one of us." Nebula looked back at him, unblinking. There it was again, the inclusion similar to what Rhodey had used at the restaurant. You’re one of us. She swallowed. It was almost too much, this place where she was considered part of the team for what she had done in two universes, as it were. To be accepted for who she was, what she was, which couldn’t ignore her status as an assassin. It was just… How would a Human say it? Part of the package? Working through the emotions that had crept up on her during this conversation with Stark was distracting, but she did her best to control them. It was second nature to her to refrain from revealing much to anyone.
“I did not enjoy being bitch slapped. Even I don’t know the entirety of what may have been affected by it. I usually repair myself.” Pause. “Rocket grieved and worked very hard during those five years without Groot.” She used their proper names, because it was the right thing to do. “He and I were part of the patrol who… but you know that.” She made a small noise. “I guess I should be grateful he hasn’t stolen my left arm. He’s always plotting, but he can be relied upon.”
She looked down into her coffee mug. “I… I will permit you to scan me, yes, if I can review the equipment you intend to use first and approve of anyone else who may wish to be present.” "I know," he said, and it was a blanket statement. He knew how awkward this was. He'd been through it so many times over the past few years, that he kept reminding himself that none of this was what anyone could consider normal, and it never would be.
"Hey, don't worry. It's not up to us. You can review everything and you get to say what you want, and when you want it. If you're in dire straits, I'll do what I can to help." He mustered up a smile that didn't quite meet his eyes. "I'm nowhere near what happened to you, but I know about messed up father figure crap. So you're not in this alone, either. You can come up here and vent at me if you need to."
It was the least he could do. She nodded, once. “I understand.” Nebula hoped that was sufficient to cover everything Stark had just mentioned. She wished his smile would be less troubled when they met again. Lifting her mug of coffee in a form of salute, she added, with a small smile, “I will need more of this and don’t think I have forgotten our rematch.”
Paper football. Maybe that would help him relax a little.