A/N: Written by request from and with the assistance of Marvel-Tolkien Fangirl, who made sure I got all the GotG characters' voices right! :)
May and Coulson had just turned to head back to the SUV when the sun was momentarily blotted out by some huge object. A few seconds later, the earth shuddered as an enormous crash shattered the air.
Coulson turned to May, blinking; they both drew ICERs and went to investigate.
As they drew near, they saw that the object was a spacecraft - blue emblazoned with yellow, with a v-shape that gave it the appearance of a bird of prey. A humanoid figure was climbing down the side of the ship from the open cockpit, yelling back to those inside, "Look, all I'm saying is that you gotta be more careful with the landing next time! It's getting hard to find parts for her any more!"
He dropped to the ground and turned, surveying the landscape. His eyes went wide as he spotted Coulson and May, ICERs drawn and trained on him.
"Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa!" he protested, holding his hands up. "No need for all of that. I come in peace."
Coulson lowered his ICER, brow furrowing, and nodded to May, who lowered hers marginally but kept it at the ready just in case.
The man swaggered over and stuck out a hand for Coulson to shake. "Peter Quill," he said genially. "Or...maybe you've heard of me as...Star-Lord?"
Coulson tilted his head, smiling in bemusement. "Can't say that I have," he replied mildly. "Phil Coulson," he introduced himself, shaking the other man's hand while looking him up and down carefully. "Asgardian?"
Quill blinked, looking simultaneously disappointed and flattered. "Nah," he said casually. "I'm from here. Well -" He glanced around at the deserted landscape. "Not here here. But Earth."
Coulson nodded slowly, taking it in. "What can I do for you, Mr. Quill?"
"Please, just 'Quill.' 'Mister' sounds so...serious."
Coulson cracked a half-smile.
Quill was peering around carefully at this point, as if examining the scene for evidence.
"What can I do for you?" Coulson repeated.
Quill looked sharply back at him, almost as if he'd forgotten he was there. "We tracked a renegade Kree named Vin-Tak to this planet, and my crew and I have been in orbit for the last five hours trying to locate him. We detected the energy signature from whatever just happened here and decided to check it out."
"That was the Bifrost," Coulson supplied, tilting his head at Quill curiously. "You and your crew weren't the only people looking for the Kree. We sent him to Asgard with Lady Sif. They'll make sure he gets back to his home world with his memory wiped."
Quill's eyebrows lifted.
"Come on," Coulson said amiably. "Why don't you bring your crew along and come back to base with us? If you don't mind, I'd really like to ask you some questions."
When he met Quill's crew - a talking raccoon, a woman with green skin, a burly guy who reminded Coulson a little bit of a highly-tattooed Carl Creel, and a four-foot potted tree that could move at will and, apparently, talk - he had even more questions.
A couple of hours later, Coulson and Quill were holed up in Coulson's office discussing the wonders of the Galaxy, Gamora and May were off sparring in the gym, and Rocket was up to his elbows in grease, digging through the engine of one of SHIELD's SUVs as the garage guys stood around, looking on with rapt attention.
"No, no, no," Rocket was declaring irascibly. "You humies have been using this tech for how long now? And ya still haven't figured out how to maintain it? Let me show you idiots how this thing is supposed to work!"
On the other side of the garage stood Hunter and Fitz, Hunter with his mouth half-open and an utterly blank expression on his face, Fitz with visible wheels turning inside his head as he quietly shifted his expectations from "pet dog" to "mechanically-brilliant, cybernetically-enhanced talking raccoon."
From the engine of the SUV came a feral snarl, a snap, and a shower of sparks, followed by a triumphant exclamation from Rocket.
Mack cautiously walked up the ramp of the Bus, eyeing the SUV warily. "This is some crazy stuff, man," he said quietly to Fitz, shaking his head.
"It's incredible," Fitz whispered back reverently. "I want to take scans of his entire system to see how they've integrated the cybernetics. He's a walking marvel." His eyes lit up with something approaching glee. "And on top of that, he's adorable! I just want to pinch his little cheeks!"
Hunter glanced over at Fitz incredulously, one eyebrow raised very high. Mack shifted his weight uncomfortably, almost bumping into the potted plant behind them.
"Who's bringing flora into my garage?" he muttered irritably, noticing it for the first time.
Said flora proceeded to stretch its limbs, open its eyes, and rumble in a voice like a baby lion's, "I am Groot."
Mack's eyes went wide. "I'm outta here," he mumbled, before turning on his heel and walking away as quickly as he could without full-on running.
Fitz grinned. "This is incredible," he murmured. "Jemma's gonna want samples of everything."
Hunter just shook his head slowly in disbelief and continued watching.
Over in the lab, Simmons was carefully removing electrodes from the chest of a cooperative Drax the Destroyer. Nearby, Bobbi stood watch, her battle staves sheathed but at the ready in case anything got out of hand. She didn't quite trust the look of this big guy, and he was certainly too much for Simmons in a fight.
"Thank you very much for being willing to let me collect some data," Simmons gushed. "We've never encountered anyone of your race before, and honestly, I'm dying to see the results of these tests."
Drax looked at her sharply, his brow furrowed in concern. "Why are you dying for the results of the tests? Are they truly that important?"
"Oh! Uh..." Simmons, confused, glanced over at Bobbi (who looked equally befuddled) before clarifying, "I'm not actually dying. I just meant...I'm very eager to see the results." She smiled brightly.
"Ah." Satisfied with the explanation, Drax began stalking slowly around the lab, examining the various instruments and components set up on the counters, while Simmons pored over the data on the computer screen. Bobbi kept a wary eye on the alien, sizing up the knives he wore at his sides and mentally calculating his approximate weight and center of gravity, determining where the best place would be to hit him in case she ever needed to knock him off balance.
Drax stopped at the table where Simmons and her team had been working on the new, higher-powered ICERs, and his eyes lit up. Here, clearly, was something that interested him. He reached toward them cautiously.
"I wouldn't touch those, if I were you," Bobbi warned, knowing that the prototypes were still a little unstable. "They can pack quite a punch."
Drax examined them skeptically, then peered back at her, puzzled. "Are inanimate objects capable of punching on this world?"
Bobbi blinked, then looked blankly over at Simmons, who interjected delicately, "Ah, she means that they...could potentially be unstable and thus very dangerous."
"I see." Drax resumed his careful inspection of the lab.
Simmons arched an amused eyebrow at Bobbi, who shook her head helplessly, rolling her eyes.
Simmons turned back to the computer screen and typed in, under Species Characteristics, "Extremely literal."
Over in the gym, Gamora's jabs were sharp and deadly accurate, and it was all Agent May could do to parry each blow. Eventually, May saw an opening and took it, striking hard toward the other woman's body - but it was a trap. With an acrobatic twist, Gamora took advantage of May's shift in balance, lifting her up and flinging her against the mats that were lining the walls.
May stood up slowly, stretching. "Nice move," she remarked. "Your strength and agility are more than a match for mine."
Gamora smiled tightly, lowering her guard. "You're an excellent fighter, for a Terran. Quill doesn't usually last that long against me."
May allowed herself a small, pleased smile, then scrutinized Gamora with a sense of awe. The green-skinned woman had sustained a few cuts during their spar, which were already beginning to close. "You have an exceptionally fast rate of healing," May observed. "Is that the norm for your people?"
Gamora's expression went rigid, and she drew herself up taller. "I am the only one of my people left," she said, her voice unemotional, but sadness in her eyes. "From a young age, I was crafted as a weapon in the service of the being who killed them. My strength, speed, agility, and rate of healing have been enhanced with cybernetics."
A shadow flickered across May's face. "I'm sorry to hear about your people, and your situation," she murmured.
Gamora nodded. "It was...often intolerable."
May tilted her head, studying this strong young woman carefully. "How did you escape?"
Gamora's lips curved in a cold smile, a defiant gleam in her eye. "He trusted me too much. And I waited for the right opportunity."
May nodded approvingly, Gamora's words filtering through her consciousness. Something occurred to her.
"You said you were designed as a weapon?"
Gamora nodded in affirmation.
"I have a team member I'd like for you to talk to. If you're willing."
Gamora raised an eyebrow. "I am willing. Has one of your team been in a similar situation?"
"Not exactly." May paused. "Have you ever heard the term 'Terrigenesis'?"
"So," Coulson said conversationally. "What was it that brought you across the galaxy in pursuit of a lone Kree? Did homesickness play a part?"
Quill laughed it off. "Not exactly." He kicked his feet up on Coulson's desk casually; then, at a sharp look from the other man, took them off again. "We, uh -" He cleared his throat. "My team and I have been tracking any unusual movements by individuals or small groups of Kree. Ever since the Kree Empire signed a treaty with the Nova Corps, there's been a fair amount of terrorist activity being carried out by factions who are displeased with the agreement. My team came together because one Kree extremist tried to destroy an entire planet. People have been a little jumpy about them since then. And I don't want them anywhere near Earth, if I can help it."
Coulson nodded sagely, filing a few things away to ask Sif about the next time he saw her. "Understandably so." He paused, sizing Quill up. "So you and your team, you work for the Nova Corps?"
Quill smirked, studying his fingernails. "Not exactly."
Coulson let it drop, recognizing the man's caginess and assuming he had his reasons. "Well, I don't think terrorism was on the mind of this Kree. He actually came looking for a member of my team."
Quill raised his eyebrows, surprised. "Why is that?"
Coulson drew a breath to reply, then paused, his forehead crinkling up. "Have you ever heard of the Kree doing genetic experiments on other races?"
"May I come in?"
Skye glanced up from her game of solitaire in the Cage to see an unfamiliar, green-skinned woman standing in the doorway. Her eyes widened. Coulson had popped his head in earlier to inform her that they had guests, and from the ruckus she'd been hearing down in the garage, she figured they were exciting guests. But Coulson had failed to mention that they were...not human.
"Uh, yeah, sure," Skye replied, shuffling the cards back into the deck.
The woman nodded politely, pulling a chair closer to Skye. "My name is Gamora," she introduced herself, in a voice that was soft, yet somehow steely. She sat down gracefully in the chair, but her muscles stayed tense, and Skye had the impression that she didn't allow herself to relax very often. "Agent May told me some of your story, and she thought it might be helpful for you to hear some of mine. If you are interested."
Skye eyed her warily. "Okay."
Gamora spoke unemotionally, only her eyes hinting at the depth of suffering wrapped up in her words. "When I was a small child, my home planet was attacked by a being called Thanos. He slaughtered my people and took me, the only survivor, as his own daughter. Over the next years, he made modifications to my body and mind, forming me into the perfect warrior. I became a deadly weapon, conditioned to obey without question, designed and destined to fight his battles."
Skye pressed her lips together as Gamora's words hit home. Gamora studied her carefully. "Sound familiar?"
Skye nodded slowly, her jaw working. Her voice was low. "The Kree we found said that I - that people like me were genetically engineered to be weapons. Abominations, designed to be killers, to fight for the Kree. Like fate, or something."
Gamora nodded. "I have heard the stories. I didn't realize there was a place where the experiments had borne fruit." A proud, defiant look came into her eyes. "What Thanos and the Kree both forget is that a person, no matter how carefully crafted, still has a will of her own. We are not objects, Skye; we are people. People with the power to choose."
Skye looked at her steadily, her face softening. "Did you choose?"
"I did," Gamora said evenly. "I chose to reject the purpose for which others crafted me. Now I fight for what I believe is right."
Skye shook her head, leaning back against the wall of the Cage. "It feels so overwhelming," she almost whispered. "I never asked for any of this."
Gamora studied her with sympathy. "I understand," she replied quietly. "I would not relive those years under Thanos for anything." The steely undertone in her voice grew more noticeable. "But I have come to appreciate what he did to me."
Skye turned to look at her, confusion knitting her brows together.
"Being a weapon isn't necessarily a bad thing," she explained. "A weapon can be a powerful tool, for good or for evil; it depends on who is wielding it. You have been given great power, Skye; the responsibility rests with you to decide what purpose you will serve with it." Skye's face began to clear. "Once you have mastered it, you may find that you are a more powerful force for good than you ever dreamed."
A flicker of hope kindled in Skye's eyes, and Gamora's face softened into a smile.
A knock came on the door, and a tall, sturdily built man was standing in the doorway. He, at least, looked human, Skye observed absently.
"Time to go," he announced good-naturedly, looking at Gamora, and she nodded, glancing over to Skye once more.
Skye smiled weakly. "Thank you," she said quietly, and Gamora smiled in return, rising from the chair as gracefully as she had settled into it.
"You are welcome," she replied.
"Hey," the man said conversationally to Skye. "Are you the one who makes things shake?"
Skye stiffened. "Yeah."
"Cool," he replied, and Skye relaxed. "You know," he added, "it's pretty neat being half human and half something awesome."
Skye laughed in spite of herself. "Oh yeah?"
"Yep," he affirmed. "Sometimes it means you can do things you never thought you'd be able to do." He and Gamora exchanged a glance - his amused, hers wary.
"That was not a good experience, Quill," she muttered.
"But we saved the day, didn't we?" He grinned at her impishly. She rolled her eyes in response.
Skye couldn't contain her curiosity. "What's the half of you that isn't human?"
Quill turned his roguish grin on her. "No idea."
And with that, they were gone.