The first time she was tortured, when it started, she’d thought it was the worst pain she could possibly feel. Sometime after that, she’d realized that there was no such thing. It could always hurt worse. That’s when she’d wanted to die.
It was a lesson Thanos instilled in each of his children. “Life is a cruel joke, but you’ll keep living it until I say. I decide how you live. I decide when you can die.”
When all you know is pain, it gains a certain familiarity. Everything hurts, but pain you know is better than pain you don’t. It’s the reason she can’t take a hug from her sister, even though she’d spent years wishing for one so hard it hurt. Kindness is just a signal that pain is coming.
The raccoon understands, but that’s one of the reasons they stay out of each other’s way. Trying to help her would hurt him too much and vice versa. They’d only be hurting each other.
Strangely, it was Quill she was most comfortable with. Rocket had shields of venom and jagged glass. Gamora, it seemed to her, had no shields at all, utterly bare to the world. Each of them, in their own way, was too raw, too exposed, and it terrified Nebula.
Quill though, his defenses were less obvious. He didn’t guard so much as he deflected. He hid himself behind brashness and banality, presenting an idiot to the world to hide the damage. Even to those who knew him best, he was a joker, irritating but easy to get along with, competent as he was infuriating.
It was simple once she’d discovered that he didn’t expect her to respond to his chatter. She could let him keep his walls while she kept hers. It had given her time and space to realize that the pain she expected wasn’t going to come from him and his friends.
She was still afraid, probably always would be. But being able to tell herself that there were people who wouldn’t hurt her helped, even if she only half believed it.
She was learning a new lesson. Life is neither inherently kind nor inherently cruel. Life neither gives nor takes away. People do those things. Some people will hurt you and others will help. Your own choices will either hurt or help you. Ultimately, you decide your own fate.
Maybe it’s too late for Nebula. She is what she is, and she’s not sure anything will change that. But she has hope, if not for herself, then for others. She meant what she said to Gamora. She would help children like her by killing Thanos, and then killing every other monster she found until the universe was finally rid of them.
Thanos made her into a weapon, but she’s no longer his to wield. Let him see that he created the instrument of his own destruction. When she kills him, it will be for what she could’ve been, but it will also be for what so many others may still become. She’ll never be a beacon of hope but, maybe, in her own way, she can still protect hope in others.