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we tried the world (it wasn't for us)

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“You’re homeless now,” Nebula says, nose scrunched. She gingerly touches the faded velvet curtains Peter put up in the front windows of the bus. “I see you’re really moving up in the world.”

Gamora rolls her eyes. “I invited you here, you know. You could at least not be a bitch.” She clears a stack of old Rolling Stone magazines off the apple-box “coffee table,” motioning for Nebula to sit. “And I’m not homeless. This is my home.”

“This?” Nebula snorts, glancing around the bus. “This is sad. You know, if you would’ve stuck with me, we’d have our own place by now, and the Mustang, and—“

“That was never an option,” Gamora cuts in, eyes cold and fixed on Nebula. “And you know that.”

Nebula is quiet for a moment. She finally sits on the edge of one of the torn-out bus seats. Her dress is blue, a nice cobalt blue—her old favorite color. Thanos had no problem buying her all the blue clothing in the world when they were kids. But beneath the hem, Gamora can see Nebula’s old scars, scores of them, thin and ragged on her pale legs.

She doesn’t wear the prosthesis Gamora knows she has. She wears her amputation with pride, her jacket sleeve rolled up to the elbow.

“Did you ever go back?” Gamora doesn’t look at Nebula. She knows that if she does, she’ll cry.

Nebula looks up sharply. “If I went back, he’d kill me. Don’t be stupid.”

At least Gamora can take solace in that.

*

Gamora is making a lot of money. More money than she knows what to do with, more money than she ever saw up close when she was living as a part of Thanos’ family. And maybe she’s not making it legally all of the time, but she’s not sticking a blade between the ribs of a rival family member or kicking an antiques dealer in the face, so she’s pretty happy.

“All about the Benjamins, baby,” Rocket says, his irritating moustache twitching as he chucks a handful of bills in the air. He’s squatting on one of the bus seats, his tiny body contorted enough for Groot to sit next to him, silent and towering as ever. But they’re both smiling. “You might wanna step on it, Star Wars. It’s not gonna take long for bro to realize that semi-automatic was being tracked.”

“On it,” Peter says cheerfully from his spot in the driver’s seat. The bus roars to life with a gag of exhaust and Peter peels away from their dingy back-alley parking spot behind the most recent hideout of a scummy arms dealer who made a bad trade with Rocket years back. They’ve got fistfuls of unmarked bills, a tank full of gas, and some Sly and Family Stone on the stereo.

Then Gamora gets a call from Nebula on an unknown number.

I’m feeling a bit blue, sis,” Nebula says, voice halting in her throat, the line crackling. Ever since they were girls, that was their code-phrase for when shit was hitting the fan and they needed each other and no one else.

Gamora opens her mouth to speak, to ask what’s wrong, but feels a stubborn tug in her belly. “Are you dying?”

No.”

“Are you going to die?”

Not likely, but—“

“Then don’t call again,” Gamora says, ending the call.

“Who the hell was that?” Peter glances at her in the rearview mirror.

“No one,” Gamora snaps. She grabs a handful of cash off the floor and stuffs it in her messenger bag. She’s taking what’s hers.

*

A week later, Peter is at a bar, negotiating a threesome between the freckled bartender and an off-duty cop. Groot is smoking a joint behind the bar with the cop’s on-duty friend. Rocket is beating Drax’s ass at pool. And Gamora is drunk and lonely, so she walks back to the bus.

“So you don’t want me to die,” Nebula says from the shadows. Only her long, pale legs are visible where they’re propped up on the opposite seat. “That’s something, I guess.”

“You really can’t take a hint, can you?” Gamora shuts the bus doors. “How’d you get in? The front door is always locked.”

“Emergency exit,” Nebula says, and sits up so the streetlamp lights up her face.

Gamora gasps—she can’t help it. Nebula has always been lovely with her red hair and heart-shaped face, but she’s hardly recognizable. She’s got a black eye, her nose is bandaged, and her head is shaved close to the scalp. She’s still striking, but she’s not Nebula. “What happened?”

“Daddy,” Nebula says with a snort. “Who else?”

“How are you not dead?” Gamora sits across from Nebula and reaches out to check her stitches, which look like they were done in a bathroom. Nebula flinches away with a moue of disgust.

“I traded something,” Nebula spits. “Don’t freak out, okay?” Before Gamora answers, Nebula holds up her hand, her good hand, the one she still has. Her pinkie is completely gone.

“Nebula,” Gamora gasps, catching Nebula’s wrist in her hand. “They can’t, this is insane—“

“This is what it means to be free,” Nebula says, snatching her hand back. “I can pay the price.” She glances up at Gamora. Her gaze is heavy. It is no longer the look of a frightened child.

“Nebula,” Gamora says, inching closer. “Sister. What did they want?”

Nebula clenches her jaw. “They want you.” She turns to look Gamora head-on, their eyes locked. “And I am not your sister.”

“We were sisters once,” Gamora says, but the words feel hollow. “Let me help. Let me—“

“No,” Nebula says. Gamora thinks she will leave, make her grand exit, make a scene, as she’s so fond of. But instead, she rests her forehead against the frosty glass window. She looks tired. She looks as old as Gamora feels. “Maybe just sit with me for a bit. Don’t talk, or be fucking annoying.”

Gamora wants to curl her fingers around Nebula’s, or at least the ones she has left, but instead, she just sits. She sits for a long time, and knows she cannot make this better.

*

She gets a text from a different unknown number three weeks later.

Not so blue anymore. Heading out. We’ll meet again, sis.

Gamora smiles and deletes the text.