SHIELD is meant to moniter potential threats, especially those that come from outside the planet. That's all well and good, but then comes a group from beyond the black that's just as messed up as the Avengers, a little less willing to help save a planet if that's what it takes, and even more likely to accidentally destroy a landmark.

And of course, Tony Stark got to them first.

o.o.o.o.o

"Hello to any and all listening authorities on planet Earth. This is Peter Quill, requesting permission and coordinates to land the spacecraft The Milano."

"You've been sending that message out for hours. We haven't received even a single response." Gamora's voice breaks the near silence.

The message really has been on a loop since they entered orbit, but Quill's pretty sure the main problem has just been the fact that he doesn't know what frequency he's looking for, and maybe that Earth's radios may not be sensitive enough to pick up on the message from this far away.

"We'll get one eventually." Quill shrugs, looking far less concerned than he actually is. "And if we don't, I'll just land her in Iowa or something. I think that was one of the empty states. There were a couple where there was nothing but wheat and cows for miles."

"States?" Gamora tilts her head. "A state as in... a country?"

Quill makes a face. "Eh... not really. The country I'm from was called the United States of America, and it probably still is, if the whole thing with the Russians didn't remodel the world too much. Anyway, it's a big place, so it's split up into fifty smaller sections, the states, and the states are divided up even smaller into counties, and the counties are divided into towns and cities. It's like... The Nova Empire's all just one big government, right? But each of the planets is allowed a bunch of control of its own, right?"

Gamora nods slowly. "It refrains from too much micromanagement by compartmentalizing. It's a method of order."

"Yeah, that." Quill glances down at the outgoing signal, and then turns the dial a little again. Next frequency. "Anyway, a couple of them, the ones that aren't by the sea, mostly, don't have a lot of people, so they're used for farming and, like, national parks."

"Primarily agricultural, then. You want to land there because it's unlikely to disturb anyone."

"Yeah, mostly." Quill's also pretty sure that the less people that see them, the better, for now, but that's really all he's got. He wonders if he could somehow manage to pinpoint Missouri, find his way home again, but he doubts it; it's been a long time.

There's a lull in the conversation again, but then there's a beeping noise and Quill's scrambling to get to the controls because yes, there's finally an answer!

"Hello?"

"Nice message you're sending out." The voice that comes through the speakers is clear, clearer than Quill had expected. "Bit annoying, though. How long've you been sending that thing out?"

"Couple of hours now." Quill answers, not being able to help the small grin that comes over his face at the realization that he's finally talking to another human again. "You're the first response I've had."

"A couple of hours? Really? The sensors should have picked that up ages ago. JARVIS, put that on the list for projects. It's kind of embarrassing. Even SHIELD should have gotten this, let alone the tower. Sloppy, I say."

"Yes, sir."

Quill and Gamora are both staring at the radio, and Gamora's probably getting a sinking feeling in her gut if Quill knows her at all by this point, fed up with the world around her or something, but he's just waiting for some permission to land.

"Alright, so, question time; you planning on attacking anyone here like the last guy?" The voice is addressing Quill again, so he answers as truthfully as he can, because he really has no idea how

"No plans, and I'll try to resolve any arguments that crop up diplomatically. I can't speak for some of the crew." Quill ignores the look that Gamora shoots him. "Some of them don't really get how to be... social. Gamora?"

She purses her lips as she glares at him, but speaks nonetheless. "If they step out of line, I will deal with the consequences."

"Eh, I've dealt with aliens before. One of them's on the team. Any of you actually know how the planet works? Do you look as human as the Asgardians?"

Quill winces, and doesn't notice the scared-stiff look on Gamora's face, short-lived as it is. "Uh... I lived in Missouri until I was eight. Haven't been home in over twenty-six years. Finally getting a chance to do it now. I'm a bit behind on pop-culture, but I think I can deal. The other's only know what they've picked up from me. And I guess I'm the only one that looks human." Due mostly to the fact that he was half human himself.

There's a sort of muffled choking noise, which Quill recognizes as badly hidden laughter. "Well, you're not the first of the type we've had like that. Cap's been trying to catch up on pop culture since he got out of the ice, and our own resident alien isn't really up to date either. Hey, how big's your ship?"

Quill's not thrown by the sudden change in subject, at least not much, so he closes his eyes and thinks back, trying to translate the measurements he knows by heart into the feet and inches from his childhood. "Can't say I've used Earth measurements since I was planet-side but... I'd say her wingspan's about a hundred-odd feet? Can't say anything for the weight, though, just that it's mostly iron and steel, and not the super-light stuff that the rich guys use."

"Damn. Can't get you on the tower, then. The landing pad can't really hold anything larger than a quinjet." Quill doesn't know what a quinjet is, but it's probably some kind of smaller aircraft. "How many people you got?"

"Five." He's not sure if Rocket and Groot count in Terran (human) eyes, but they count in Quill's, so there's the number.

"Great. That's a small enough number that I might actually get Malibu to swing. Other option would be the Helicarrier, but after the fiasco last month... yeah, Malibu'll work. Tell you what: you keep flying and let JARVIS log your coordinates, while I get the rest of my team set up to meet you down in Malibu, at my place. It's nice and big, for all your alien needs, and you probably won't destroy anything too important since we're in the middle of remodeling after AIM blew it up anyway."

Quill's eyebrows are up to his hairline, and his glance at Gamora holds the first of his doubts showing clearly on his face.

"Yeah, yeah, I know what it sounds like. It's mostly rebuilt, though; the insides just aren't as pretty as they used to be, which just goes to show that outer beauty really is what matters."

Gamora looks like she's seconds away from face-palming, even though she's probably not going to, just because she's Gamora.

"Uh... do we have coordinates?" Peter tries to think up other questions that may or may not be pertinent. "Any way of knowing that we won't be shot down by the Soviets?"

"Buddy, the Soviets blew over years ago. The USSR broke up in '91. It was messy. They needed lots of chocolate and chick flicks. Never really got over the heartbreak." Quill shouldn't be laughing, he really shouldn't, but he can't help the snicker that escapes at the flippant humor that's coming from the radio. "And I'll get JARVIS to make sure you don't get shot by anyone else. As for how you'll find your destination, well... I've been waiting for a reason to try out the new suit. Just lose some altitude for now, and then follow the red and yellow metal man."

The radio shuts off with a click.

o.o.o.o.o

Quill isn't sure what he was expecting, or what Gamora was expecting, because he spends the next few minutes trying to get her to not go for the weapons on the ship.

"They know the Asgardians, Quill." It's not a panic attack, because Gamora's too broken-and-rebuilt-with-robotics for that, but there's still plenty of anger and mild fear in her face. "They're stronger than most races in the universe, and they've always opposed Thanos. If they have heard of me, but not of my defection..."

"I'll take care of it." Quill promises, though his mind is racing as he tries to figure out how. "Just... let me make sure I'm off the ship first, and I'll make sure to explain things first."

There's a reason Gamora calms down at that: Quill's the only one of them that's any good at diplomacy, and he's managed to talk his way out of a lot more than just Gamora's death back in prison. Talking down Drax was easy enough (kind of), distracting Ronan par for the course (though terrifying), tricking Yondu nearly a cakewalk (even if he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop), and getting their criminal records wiped by the Nova Corps was barely difficult (because they'd already risked their lives to save the entire damn Galaxy).

Quill is pretty sure he could get through his first visit to Earth since the Ravagers stole him without getting any of the group killed.

Probably.

"What... is that?"

Quill is knocked out of his musings by Gamora's question, and he follows her gaze out to see a red and gold figure crouching on the nose of the ship. Whatever noise the landing made was probably too quiet compared to the engines and everything else, but the more interesting part was mostly just that the whatever-it-was didn't exactly look like a normal human. It was metallic, and the eyes were glowing, and the whole thing looked like a very streamlined suit of armor.

The radio suddenly pinged, and Quill slowly reached out and pressed the button to accept the call. "Hello?"

"Hey, it's me again. I'm the one on your nose, if I got the right ship. Which I probably did, but I'm supposed to check these things just to make sure."

"Yeah, that's us." Quill relaxes a little. "So we just follow you, then?"

"Yep. You and your merry band of aliens just need to follow me down to Malibu, and you'll be able to land right in my backyard." The figure stands up and launches itself off The Milano's nose, and Quill wimpers a little at the thought of the scorch marks that are probably ruining the paintjob now.

"You can fix it later."

"But my ship..."

"Just follow the... metal man." Gamora gestures out the window and Peter sighs, urging the ship down and slightly faster than normal.

"I can still hear you. I can pay for a paintjob for the whole thing, if you want." The offer comes out of seemingly nowhere, though Quill is starting to get the feeling that whoever's on the other end of the line is not normal, or even anywhere near close to it, if only in terms of finances. "Just follow me for now, though."

"Already am." Quill says. "Any warnings we need to hear before we land?"

"Don't get the older guy with the glasses angry, don't try to mess with the redheads, and don't fanboy over the Captain. Also, the big guy will eat all the Poptarts and the guy with the bow might end up popping out of the ceiling every now and again." The voice is cheery. "Oh, and don't freak out about the butler."

The more Quill listens, the less he's sure about following this particular guy, but he's already made up his mind, so he keeps flying.

"Gamora? Can you get the others and tell them we're about to land?" Quill asks, because he's low enough to make out blocks in the cities he flies over, and that means they're only a minute or two away from actually landing, and that means he needs to warn people.

"You have a way to tell them from here." Gamora reminds him.

"Yes, but you can actually keep them from rushing off the ship first thing." Quill mutters, knowing that his friend (maybe girlfriend? At some point? Eventually?) has heard him anyway. Cybernetic hearing is useful that way.

"I'll see what I can do." Gamora almost sounds amused by that.

"Your friends are that bad?" The voice comes through the radio again, much more audibly amused than Gamora. "What, too embarrassed by your silly little planet to let them meet us?"

"More like I don't want to start or get involved in another inter-planetary war." Quill answers, trying to make it seem like less of a deal than it was. "Nearly died to save a planet already; don't need to do it again."

A laugh comes over the line, and Quill can see the ocean on the horizon. "I feel your pain. Let me tell you, though, once you save the world once, it asks you to keep doing it. Really, it's kind of annoying. And the fans were fine when I was younger, but taking them up on their offers to find a nice hotel room are a bit more trouble now that I've got an actual relationship to care about and a proper reputation."

"...Right." Quill hasn't had any of that trouble yet, but the fact that this guy is claiming to be able to relate is making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

"Yeah, you'll get used to it. Ready to put the bird down?"

Quill's got his hands on the controls. "Half a second." He turns on the PA system and, even though he knows he only needs to talk normally, shouts down at the rest of the crew. "We're about to land, so strap in, asap!"

"Alright, let's get you down. Follow me!" And the metal man is diving, diving, diving, and Quill can't really do the same with his ship being the size it is, so he does his best to spiral down, keeping the flying suit in his sights at all times.

The house they land behind is big, with an even bigger estate, and Quill remembers that the guy they followed implied that the building is his and his alone, and suddenly feels a lot more anxious, because anyone with this kind of property and that kind of tech is way more influential than he's used to dealing with.

"All of you stay in here until I say it's okay to come out." Quill orders, and then backtracks and tacks on something that really needs to be said, every time. "Gamora's in charge until then."

She's really the only one he can trust to be sensible, because Rocket's too trigger happy, Drax doesn't understand why his level of violence is unacceptable, and Groot's too willing to follow Rocket's lead.

"Fine." Rocket says, but the look on his face is annoyed at best "These people really gonna give us that much trouble?"

"They know an Asgardian, and on good terms." Gamora says, voice tight, and that seems to be enough to subdue at least Rocket, though Drax seems confused by what might be the problem.

"Asgardians are more responsible for universal peace than even the Nova Corps." Rocket grumbles. "And they don't exactly get along with Gamora's dear old daddy."

"Thanos is not my father." Gamora snaps, but the words lack venom; she's said it too many times, and Rocket's incessant needling on the point is helping her come to terms with her 'disowning' more than she'd ever admit.

"Point is, there might be trouble if the Asgardian knows who she is." Rocket continues. "You tried to kill her for working for Ronan; we don't know what'll happen if they're not told about her going rogue."

Darx seems mollified by that, and nods to Quill. "I trust that you shall speak with them to prevent any needless deaths."

Deaths. Not battle. Because Drax would probably enjoy that. Right.

"Yeah, well, let's hope I get this done right, then." Quill says, and turns to duck out the now-open door. He takes a deep breath as he exits, then lets his eyes adjust to the light and the scenery and takes a second to fully come to terms with the fact that he's finally back home, even if he's not in Missouri, and then he takes in the view before him.

Three people. A blond man, built like a supermodel and looking slightly too familiar for comfort. A woman with red hair and a look on her face that reminds him far too much of Gamora. And finally, the metal man, who is now confirmed to probably be human, because the metal is folding back and in on itself bit by bit until it's nothing but a suitcase on the ground.

"I love the Mark VI design. The suitcase was so helpful." The man steps forward and holds a hand out to Quill. "Tony Stark."

The name strikes a chord in Quill's memories (oh shit, he's rich and a Stark and he's probably that one kid genius that was always on the news because of his dad's weapons company back when Quill was a kid), but he grins gamely and steps forward, shaking the hand with the exact amount of strength that he's found makes him seem the most trustworthy.

"Peter Quill. Nice to meet you."

o.o.o.o.o

A/N: The idea of how the Avengers would meet the Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't leave me alone, though the original took place on Stark Tower before I realized that there wasn't a large enough landing space for The Milano. Yes, there's a relatively large landing pad available in the pictures, but it may not actually be able to handle The Milano's weight, even if the size was handled properly.

Might continue this. Might not. Don't bother asking.

Ja ne,

Phoenix