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Of Course He Remembers Meredith

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You don’t forget someone who sneaks into press conferences with an Electric Light Orchestra t-shirt beneath her studded jean jacket. Tony suspects security was distracted by her grand smile and her harmless Southern twang. Or maybe Meredith was just sneaky.

Even on the tapes, you don’t see she’s there until she nears the front of the room. The audience is grainy in the earliest video Tony has. When Howard Stark asks the press if there will be any more questions, Meredith raises her hand like she’s a grade school student and Tony’s father, in his stiff collar and tie, is a school marm.

The withering sigh that comes out of Dad’s mouth indicates he has met Meredith at least once before this. “Do you have something to say, Miss Quill?”

“Yes, Howard. I do.” She wears long, dangly earrings with stars swinging back and forth as she nods. “What are Stark Industry’s plans regardin’ alien visitation?”

Stares from every soul in that room. Despite the blurred faces, you can see people looking at Meredith to see if there’s a tin-foil hat hiding beneath her hair or a gun strapped to her cut-offs. It’s the early eighties and it’s suspicious enough that she’s neither dressed up like the brow-beaten journalists or the yuppies in that room.

“No, Meredith,” says his father. “We don’t have a space program at the moment.”

“But you got enough money for ships, don’tchya?”

“Visiting little green men on Mars is not something we’ve budgeted for.” There it is. He’s not smiling, but wow, yeah, there’s sort of a grin in the old man’s voice.

“I’m not talking about visiting them, Howard. I mean when they come down here to see us. What are we gonna do?”

“I would recommend looking to the government.”

“Oh, I haven’t trusted the government since Nixon!”

“You’re not alone in that, but they’re the ones who took us to the moon. Maybe they can help when aliens beam us all up.”

“Howard, I’m talking about creatures so much farther than the moon.” Tony watches her smile as her Disney princess eyes glisten.

This is when the security guards show up. One takes each of her arms. “His name’s Mr. Stark,” the larger man murmurs.

“He told me to call him Howard at the party me and him was at.” Meredith goes with them peacefully, however, even serene as the press core crane their necks to watch her leave.

Between ‘81 and ‘86, Stark Industries catalogues six instances of Meredith Quill sneaking into press conferences. This does not count the time she made it into a rooftop garden party in Manhattan that Howard was hosting. That was a particularly impressive feat as everyone was in black tie and gowns and she was wearing leopard skin pants and a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt.

Tony was sixteen, had just finished up a round of exams at MIT, and was in the process of figuring out how to get plastered in front of his father. It was proving more difficult than he realized. Any glass of chardonnay or jack that drifted through the party ended up at the old man’s table with Meredith. She looked around at people pleasantly, even security, lingering nearby and waiting for Howard Stark’s signal. For some reason, there never was one.

Tony pealed himself away from his comforting spot between the fern and a pretty waitress. He slipped a glass of champagne from her tray as he passed. It was kind of funny how she didn’t even notice.

Neither did his father.

“Dad.” Tony tried to find eye contact as he took a sip, even when the bubbles filtered through his nose.

His father glanced up, sure, but Meredith looked at Tony and it was with a gaze that made it clear he was now the most important person in the room. It was a neat trick. He would have to figure out how to do it, some day.

“You must be Tony,” she said. “Your daddy’s told me all about you. You on summer break, sweetheart?”

Tony smirked at her. His dad very much had not told her about him. She looked and sounded like she had been scraped off the inside of a motor home. “If I was on summer break, I’d be in Bahia, so no.”

“My son’s already at MIT.” His father rotated his glass, considering the ice inside it. He always had a far off look at a certain point during parties after a certain number of drinks. “I graduated by fifteen, but sixteen’s not bad.”

“Not bad at all!” Meredith gave his dad a friendly slap on his knee. “You’re geniuses, you know that?”

Tony jumped. No one did that.

Howard Stark gave her a brief smile and went back to considering the ice.

“I’ll tell you a secret.” Meredith leaned close but didn’t rise from her seat. Tony could see where one of her sleeves had ripped along the shoulder seam and how she had fastened it with a safety pin. Kind of punk, really. “I was getting all A’s in school when I was about your age. They put me in a college class for Physics with cute fraternity boys and everything. Then, instead of studying for the standardized tests, I saw Redbone was in concert near my house that night. And I thought to myself, what do I like more? Studying or music? So I went and my SAT scores came back just awful. Daddy looked at them and he looked at me and he said, ‘If you ain’t gonna care enough to study for this shit, the hell I’m paying for college!’” She laughed as if this was the funniest story in the universe.

Tony looked down at her. “And became my dad’s stalker. Follow your dreams, I guess. Shoot for the stars.”

To her credit, Meredith’s smile only flickered once.

His father set down his drink, now empty, and picked up another. “Miss Quill’s been writing to every inventor with an eye on the sky. I’m not special.”

“Sure you are! You’re the only one who wrote back!”

He laughed, then. “You’re a pill, Quill.”

She nodded sagely. “I been telling everybody I was visited by a being of light for years. I got to be a pill or I ain’t worth talking to!”

Tony rolled his eyes and drained his glass. He smacked his lips and made an exaggerated “ahh” afterward, as if he had just finished off a Coke. It wasn’t like a Coke at all, though, because his head felt light. “Did they stop you at the door when you weren’t up to dress code?”

“Oh, no. I just asked nice. And I said I knew Howard.” She plucked her shirt. “You don’t like it?”

“Ma’am, that’s beside the point. Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of the best bands on the planet.” The same waitress came by to collect his empty glass and didn’t blink when he took a full one off her tray.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” she said after some thought. “But ‘Sweet Home Alabama’? I saw them perform that in ’77 before the plane crash. I waited backstage with some girlfriends and we touched Ronnie Van Zant’s hand.”

Tony could have been a real shit and asked if this was the high point of her life, if making up alien visits was all she had left, but all he did was shrug. “That’s cool. You ever seen Black Sabbath?”

“No, but Ozzy’s got some pipes.” She pulled out a chair for him and nodded at it. “I just about screamed when the bat thing happened.”

“Black Sabbath’s intense.” Tony’s fingers grazed the back of the chair.

His father seemed to wake up a little. “Black what?”

“Black Sabbath, Dad.” Tony’s fingers slid away. “They’re a band. I got posters of them all over my room.”

“Oh.” Swiftly, he downed another glass.

“Like, all over.”

“Sure,” said his father.

Tony gave a nod to Meredith, as firm a goodbye as he could manage, and went to find more champagne. No one seemed to care how much he sluiced down his gullet.

The rest of the evening passed in jumps and flashes. Literally. Lights blurred if he passed them too quickly. He remembered the waitress frowning at him, the amused look from some of his father’s friends—“I remember my first drink” and “When I was his age, I stole my dad’s cognac”—and eventually he was in the penthouse bathroom, crying. Dry, deep sobs. Then he was throwing up and it was awful, just hot and noisy and awful.

At some point, a cool, slim hand touched his forehead and then ran down his back. “Baby, I think you’ve gone and made yourself sick.” Meredith kneeled beside him on the tile, shoes off. She took his thin-stemmed glass and moved it to the other side of the toilet so neither would accidentally step on it and cut themselves.

He had seen movies. Tony thought he knew what it meant when a woman wearing that much eye shadow leaned close. “I thought you liked my dad.”

Meredith snorted. “Honey, what are you, like, eight or something? And I don’t like Howard. God. I miss my...well. Let me know if he becomes a shower of interstellar light and love, okay?”

Then Tony laughed. He laughed so hard he was crying again. “I wouldn’t mind if he became that. I wish--” He remembered stopping himself a) because he didn’t have the vocabulary required to say what he wished his dad would be and b) he was throwing up, again.

She stayed close and only left to bring him water. Eventually, she said, “You know, my baby’s at home with my daddy right now. I do want to head back to college, really. But, you know, after he’s grown.” She spoke in a guarded way and Tony realized he had really insulted her earlier.

“Oh. That makes sense. Sure.” Tony thought that Meredith looked like an adult to him, but not a mother. She was stalking his dad, after all. “You’re—I bet you’re smart enough.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t.”

“I know.”

Security didn’t seem to think she looked like a mother, either, because they came to the penthouse bathroom, too. “Mr. Stark has gone to bed,” said a guy with an earpiece. “It’s time you to hit the road.”

Tony realized they thought she was a prostitute. It was the way they avoided touching her, the look they gave her leopard print leggings. “She isn’t bothering me,” he slurred. “She can stay.”

“I really can’t.” Meredith stood. “Take some Tylenol or something before you go to bed, okay?” Then she left with them.

He did. Though he still woke up feeling as if his head had been split in two, he thought of Meredith and didn’t think it was too bad. He told his psychiatrist in Cambridge about the incident that autumn and how he wished it was his father beside him in that bathroom.

The shrink, friends with several MIT board members, had smiled nervously. He reminded Tony that Meredith was a well-known “personality” and had made the news trespassing on the properties of farmers who had claimed to have crop circles. She had been on talk shows. “She isn’t the sort of person one should latch onto. She’s an opportunist, your father has something she wants, and she saw you were in a vulnerable position.”

“That should tell you all you need to know about Dad.” Tony meant that his father kept oddball company. Out loud, though, it sounded as if he was saying a UFO nut was a preferable parent to a genius billionaire.

The psychiatrist scribbled down some notes quickly. His father was a prominent contributor to MIT and, fearing something would get back to him, fearing it would get back to him and Dad still wouldn’t care, Tony ended the sessions soon after. He hasn’t seen a psychiatrist since.

By Christmas, he had managed to convince himself the psychiatrist was right, anyway. It stood to reason Meredith was a talented actress. Sitting with him in the bathroom had been a calculated move.

He received the gift while he was in Bermuda in the beach house property he had commandeered with his new friend from MIT, Rhodey.

Rhodey regarded Tony’s wealth with suspicion. He looked absurdly guilty when Tony paid for taxis. It was one of the reasons Tony liked him so much.

“You got another thing in the mail.” Rhodey dropped the envelope on his lap before collapsing on the couch. He rested his shoes on the new stereo system. “Goddamn. You even going to use half this stuff?”

“Sure. Dad’s investors are crooks, but they know what makes a hot-blooded American male happy.” Tony lazily opened the envelope. He expected a check, not a cassette tape to fall out, much less one with a white label that read, “Metal Mix!” in black marker.

The handwriting was so chipper, it should have given it away immediately. Instead, he just put on the tape, wondering if he had some cool aunt somewhere he had forgotten about. Along with Black Sabbath, there was Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, and Judas Priest. Some 10cc and Bowie was thrown in, too. None of this was Rhodey’s thing—“Oh Jesus. Hillbilly music”—so he left to grab his swim trunks and head back to the beach. It was only when the last track, “Sweet Home Alabama,” came on that Tony realized it was from Meredith.

He thought she was maybe being mysterious and hadn’t left a note, a clever tactic, but no, he found a torn sheet of notebook paper crinkled up at the bottom of the envelope.

 

Hi Tony,

You’re a sweet kid. You got a future ahead of you.

Good luck!

Meredith

 

No mention of his dad, no mention of watching him vomit. Maybe that was a normal thing to watch kids do in the South. Or maybe there were people in the world who only wanted to put kindness into it even if they had had a bad acid trip at a concert one time that they remembered as an alien encounter.

Meredith resurfaced in conversation a few times before his dad died. It was mainly when his father was in the parlor with his war buddies, listening to jazz and smoking cigars. Tony had been upstairs, packing, and heard someone say something about “Intruders from Outer Space.”

“Meredith!” his father burst out, followed by a barking laugh.

Everyone joined him. Whatever she meant to his father, Meredith Quill was a punch line to everyone else. They started reminiscing about Captain America and World War II soon after.

Tony aimed his speakers at the door and put on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with the volume all the way up. He continued packing.

So what if she was probably an opportunist? So were all of Dad’s friends. He kept the note until it was lost when he had to move out of his Cambridge apartment. The tape stayed with him, though, even after he converted his albums to CDs and, later, MP3s and iTunes files.

Tony found the tape in 2001. He wanted to replicate the playlist she made him as the order had always seemed just right. As Jethro Tull played and he welded in his workshop, it occurred to Tony there was nothing stopping him from looking her up.

He imagined Meredith in Alabama in a small motor home, pink flamingos and bird feeders spread over the lawn. She probably wore muumuus, now, waving hello to the neighbors when she got the paper. For no real reason, he imagined she had a parakeet that she was trying to teach to sing Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Or maybe she still rocked leopard print leggings. How old had she been when they met? Late twenties? She was probably just past forty, now, crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes when she smiled.

Maybe she had gone back to school after all. She probably had a job now that didn’t involve breaking into press conferences, he hoped.

Of all the things he imagined, he didn’t think she would be thirteen years dead.

Her father, all wrinkles and rage, stood in the doorway to his house in a plaid shirt. The look he gave Tony was the kind you give to kids who leave flaming dog shit on your front porch. “You can go see her in the cemetery.”

How the hell had Meredith grown up with a man like this? “Look, I’m sorry. I really am. I’m just here to ask what happened. She had a son, too, right?”

The man’s face just collapsed. “Peter disappeared back in ’88. Day the cancer got her, he went off runnin’. We put his face on telephone poles, milk cartons, bus stops, everything. Unless you see some dumb ass running around with my headphones, he’s gone.”

Tony found a local bar. He drank until he left for a strip joint where he met a cheerful young woman who said her name was Millie. Unfortunately, he had to leave when she did an otherwise brilliantly choreographed routine to Led Zeppelin.

And it’s just another bitter memory in a life of too-cool cynicism. Remember that time the alien nut comforted him when he drank too much? Then she went and died, all her space age daydreams jet engine ash. Cancer is never fair, but the sentimentalists of the world seem to die faster than anyone else.

Tony doesn’t need anyone, he tells himself, until he needs an arc reactor to stay alive. Until he needs Pepper and Rhodey.

Until—Jesus fucking Christ—the aliens attack.

They attack and he needs Bruce, Nick, Maria, Natasha, Clint, Thor, and a recently defrosted Captain America to save the day.

Because while he’s still unsure about the rays of light and love thing, Meredith was right about the aliens. That’s reason enough to sit down and revisit the footage of her asking his father about a potential Stark space program. It can be hard to watch the press cringe, but his father, Tony notices, always listens.

“We gotta be able to get off this planet,” she says in one clip.

In another, she says, “The aliens have already spoken to me, you know? We gotta speak back.”

“I just don’t think people were ever meant to be tethered to just one rock in the sky.”

He should listen, too. Following the disturbance in New York, he immediately allocates funds to off-world exploration. This leads to the discovery that the Tesseract isn’t the only freakshow in town, that there are other stones with different powers.

Thor knows where one of them is and it’s not anywhere close to home.

Both Tony and his suit are only ready for interstellar travel again in theory. His suit, yes, is re-fitted and sealed against the vacuum of space. The exo-skeleton is looking a lot more solid these days. Projections say it should be ready, but it hasn’t been field tested because the field he would have to test it on is literally deep space.

He remembers the black void that yawned open over New York, when he went through it to re-route the warhead and watch the invader ships burst in front of him, the quiet of Jarvis as he fell. Calling Pepper.

Tony trusts numbers but not enough to keep him safe from suffocating. If he dies out there, he would ride around in the Iron Man armor for eternity, probably the most elaborate, man-shaped sarcophagus to ever sail the stars.

A literal Iron Maiden, he thinks as he, Steve, Sam Wilson, and Natasha sit in their Stark Industries ship. Steve asks Tony why he’s grinning but Tony wouldn’t dream of horrifying him by saying why. Instead, he allows his faceplate to slide into place.

Everyone else is in a proper space suit and helmet. Natasha has a line etched between her eyebrows. She took the space training more seriously than any of them. Steve looks determined and Sam is too composed, too careful in how he looks around the cabin, to not be terrified. They’re all nervous.

Maria Hill, Nick, and Bruce, in the viewing center, activate the Tesseract. It pulses blue one thousand feet above them at the top of an old radio tower commandeered for the project.

Then: the void splits open the earth and sky.

Space is a place of extremes, Tony thinks as they nose the vessel through the interstellar gateway. In front of them is a deep well of blackness and the white, pin-prick blaze of stars that may have died eons ago. No color spectrum in between, no nebulas curling purple and violet, no gravity to keep them yoked to a planet orbiting a friendly sun. A rock, Meredith said.

They stare through the window and are silent.

Sam is the first to speak, stars mirrored in his helmet. “It’s beautiful, but God. I don’t. I can’t.”

“We should have gone for another round of training.” Natasha has a strange, breathy quality to her voice. “Two more weeks, minimum.”

“Wow,” says Steve.

The stone floats in space. He would like to find that as soon as possible, thanks, then they can “radio” Thor with his weird ass Asgardian “tech” (magic) and they all head back home.

This mission could take days, weeks—hell, he thinks, as the window shows constellations he’s never seen before. It could be months. And what if the ship breaks? What do they do? He can patch things up, but can he make sure they get home?

“There’s a meteorite up there,” says Natasha.

Steve, who has appointed himself Captain, says, “Bring it up on screen.”

They aim their ship’s camera that way. It is, without a doubt, their rock.

Tony quietly thanks Thor for giving S.H.I.E.L.D. his wonderful, wonderful coordinates.

“Let me get it,” says Tony.

Natasha jumps. “Are you serious?”

“You’re right. None of us have the hardcore astronaut training we should have.” He unbuckles his seatbelt. He immediately floats upward, unmoored. It’s less like the simulations than he would have hoped. “But I’m the guy who has rockets attached to his boots. I’ll leave through the escape hatch, grab the rock, and we’ll send the signal to Thor in Asgard to get us home.”

Steve shocks everyone by agreeing with him. “That makes sense. We’ll be on stand by.”

“Exactly what does ‘stand by’ entail?” Natasha looks relieved not to be pushed into space, though.

“We have to keep communications open,” says Sam. “That’s the most important part.”

They do. When Tony seals the interior shuttle door and opens the airlock, Steve, Sam, and Natasha are murmuring in his head. Crackling static loops between them.

He jumps out into nothing and it’s as he remembered it: weightless but not like water. More free, as if he’s a puppet whose strings have been cut. Tony only remembers to turn on his rocket thrusters after a few tense moments sliding into the black.

At first, he goes way too fast and has to shut them off again.

“You okay?” says Steve.

“Of course he’s okay. I can still see him.” A “clunk” follows Sam’s voice, as if he’s pushed his hand against the window.

“Goddamn,” says Natasha. “It’s so dark, you can barely see him.”

“Real comforting, everyone,” says Tony. “Gold star--”

“It’s in front of you.” Steve is breathless. “Few yards. See the glint?”

The stone winks at him with refracted light from the shuttle. It twists maybe a couple hundred yards away. How long has it floated? Eons?

It takes a playing with the thrusters a bit, but he manages to only overshoot it twice.

“Jesus Christ,” says Sam. “Just get it.”

Natasha clucks her tongue. “Think that’s the first time someone has said that name in this part of space?”

“Stay focused,” says Captain America, good Christian but not overly concerned with spiritual questions at the moment.

“I’ve never been in space for this long, before. Let me grab this.” And Tony finally realizes he’s dizzy. Sick, even. “Guys, how are my oxygen levels looking?”

“Going a little fast, but I figured that’s because you’re breathing hard,” says Sam.

“I’m not.” One of the reasons he and his overpowered pals were dragged into the Avengers Initiative is their calm under pressure. Except for Bruce, of course. “Just one second. Jarvis, has the suit been compromised?”

He shouldn’t have asked that out loud. The hesitant affirmative is damning.

“Steer back,” says Natasha.

“Should have wrapped a bungee cord around me,” says Tony. “Wait.”

And there’s the stone. He grabs it.

“There.” He laughs. “I’m ready. It’s good, it’s fine. Everything’s fine.”

That’s, of course, when the other ship shows up. Under the lights of their own vessel, it’s a hideous orange.

All the voices in Tony’s head talk at once. Sam says how it was too easy, way too easy, and Natasha yells for him to turn around, what are you doing?

Tony’s vision blurs as he watches a dark shape detach from the ship. It’s vaguely man-shaped, he realizes, and its head has a pair of round, bright, red eyes. It has thrusters on its boots, too, and an actually pretty killer red jacket.

“There’s someone here,” Tony says. “Do you see him? My twelve o’clock.”

But the communications has been compromised. His head is silent. It’s just him, the void, the stone in his hand, and someone with blazing eyes.

He tries to jet away, but the figure grabs him. “Let go!” he howls, but to who? Sound doesn’t carry in space and certainly the figure can’t hear him. If the folks on his ship can, what could they do?

Out of the corner of his eye, Tony sees a small blaze. Now he’s panicking, even thought it looks like a welding tool. Whatever it is, it’s being applied to his shoulder.

Then the blaze abruptly goes off and the person releases him, spins Tony so they’re face to face.

The red eyes stare into his and the figure lifts his own arm up and then lets it fall back down. It does this several times, glancing at Tony’s shoulder.

Getting the idea, Tony mimics him.

The figure nods and pats Tony on his back several times. As if to say, “Good job!”

Tony has been patched up. His air is no longer leaking away, thank God, but his mind has not solidified yet. His communications link buzzes twice and but does not open again as the stranger takes Tony to the orange ship.

He realizes just how woefully Stark Industries is prepared for space, but it’s truly brought home when the red-eyed figure opens the hatch on his ship. The inside is very recognizably an airlock, but the design is smoother, more efficient. Even the interior door, when it opens, just glides like butter.

A green woman stands there. Tony stares, stone firm in his hand. She could be out of Star Trek, maybe, except she has an eyebrow (an eye ridge?) delicately cocked and has the badass leather thing down. When she opens her mouth, she speaks in a language he sure as hell doesn’t recognize. There are rough consonants and elongated vowels, a pattern and nomenclature.

Tony taps his helmet as she closes the gap between them, but his translator is just coming up three, blinking question marks in his visor.

The green woman speaks louder, slower. She’s repeating the question for me, he realizes. She also isn’t looking to pry the stone from his grip.

Tony takes off the whole of the helmet. “Sorry, girl. Keep talking, that’s fine, but I’m not getting anything.”

The green woman stops abruptly. She looks at Tony’s rescuer and keeps talking. She makes a few hand signals, one of which very much looks like a gun she’s pointing at her own neck.

Time to go? Already? Tony thinks so.

“Aw, man, I don’t know! Rocket can throw together a translator if we need one,” says his rescuer in perfect American English. It has the slightest, Southern twang. “I got the applicator fixed, too.”

Tony rounds on him. “What?”

The man is startled. He presses something on his mask, and it recedes into a small gadget on the back of his neck. It’s a human face, all peach pink skin and bearded. He smiles. “So your translator can pick up Terran English, huh? Nice. That’s step one, I guess.”

Terran? Terra. Earth. “I don’t have a translator.”

The man’s smile drops. His eyes become huge.

Tony puts out his hand. “Tony Stark. Starship Enterprise.”

It looks very much like his fellow Earthling has forgotten how to breathe. He doesn’t take Tony’s hand.

“Okay, no, that’s not what the ship’s called, but my friends and I? The ones probably freaking out because I just went into an alien ship? They’re looking for the stone I just grabbed.” He shows it to them. “We’re The Avengers, and me? I’m Iron Man.”

The man chokes. “Like the Black Sabbath song?”

With a laugh, the green woman goes and punches the man’s arm in an enormously friendly manner.

“Yeah,” the guy says self-consciously. “A band. Yes. It’s a band. He’s...he’s from Terra.” The man pins him with his eyes as if he’s the most important person in the room.

Now the woman looks startled.

Tony usually likes to be the most important person in the room, usually is, but the way this kid is staring, wow. He’s looking at him like he’s just proved Santa Claus is real. “I’m a fan, yeah. You?”

“Uh, I like Blue Swede better? Also, David Bowie.”

“Oh, Bowie! I love Bowie.”

“Jackson Five?” says the green woman through a thick accent.

Tony hears her clear as a bell. “Yeah! The Jackson Five. They’re cool.”

She smiles at him and Tony notices the designs creeping over her face. They’re awesome. He can’t tell if they’re tattoos or a part of her skin.

“This is Gamora,” the man says quickly. “She’s my teammate. Kind of second-in-command, but not really, because fuck if I know what I’m doing most of the time.” He takes out, of all things, a Sony walkman. Though the plastic, Tony can see a cassette tape with something written on the label. “I just provide the soundtrack, honestly.”

Gamora snorts. However these translators work, whatever’s used to implant them, they must be hella advanced in picking up subtle turns of phrase. Tony wouldn’t mind getting his hands on one and playing with it. He bets Stark Industries can make a pretty good one.

“I’m Star-Lord,” says his Earthling buddy. “But my real name’s Peter Quill.” He looks shy about it.

Tony freezes. “Quill?”

“Yeah?”

It takes him a moment, but the right neuron in Tony’s head fires up. “Your mom was Meredith, right?”

Tony knows what a thousand-yard stare looks like. He saw it in the mirror a lot in the days after defending Earth from Loki, but he’s never been on the end of one, especially none like Peter’s. “Yes. Meredith Quill. Alabama. Terra. Er, Earth. You knew her?”

Tony smiles. “Met her once. She made me a mix tape.”

Gamora stares at him.

Peter smiles, too, and looks very much like he’s about to cry whatever else Tony says. He’s got the Disney princess eyes, too. “Yeah,” he rasps. “Sounds like her.”

The next minute, Tony’s helmet comes alive with Steve’s voice demanding to know where he is, is he okay, Tony, talk to me, are you okay?

Then they have to dock with the Stark Industries ship so everyone can meet up. At this point, Tony is listening to Rupert Holmes and chilling with—and this is awesome—a sapient raccoon that (no offense to Bruce) is his new best friend. Because Tony likes to make friends with lab experiments who can put together interstellar translators in five minutes. Natasha likewise think he’s adorable and Sam is fascinated but pretty freaked out.

Their friend Drax isn’t quite so friendly to Tony, what with misunderstanding his finer jokes, but Gamora is genuinely delighted and maybe a little scared when he shows her the eight thousand or so songs stored in his helmet.

Peter Quill is the one who has Tony’s full attention when the evening draws to a close, though.

“I couldn’t imagine a world without my mom. I guess that’s why I had to leave,” Peter says. “Well, that, and I was kidnapped by cannibalistic scavengers who couldn’t take me back home again.”

“That’s a perfectly normal thing, yes.” But Tony can hear the sadness. “She was a kind woman. I didn’t know her long, but she really was sweet.”

“I know.” When Peter turns away to cover his face, Tony just sits beside him. Sometimes, that’s all anyone needs.

The End