By the time Peter Quill finally set foot on Earth again, he'd been gone for the better part of three decades; or about three-quarters of his life, to put it in non-Terran-centric terms. First as cargo, then as a sort of indulged mascot, then as a full-on Ravager, trained up in Yondu Udonta's mold. He'd gone places, seen things, done things that no other Terran had ever, and probably would ever experience. But for all of that, a part of him had never quite been able to let his childhood years on Earth go; had cherished every memory he had of the culture he'd been born to.
So while he might have encountered deadlier creatures, more ancient beings, and frankly much more impressive marvels of biotechnology out there in the galaxy-- he could not resist pressing his face against the bars of the outer gate and grinning in amazed delight at the toothy predator snarling at him from the enclosure beyond the inner one.
It was bigger than he'd thought it would be, from the picture books he'd seen in his school library as a kid, but the claws. And the teeth! It was fantastic, from the end of its long, whipping tail, to the unusual blue stripes up its sides, to those slit-pupiled eyes staring right at him.
"I thought we were here to look up that double of yours and see if maybe your not-Terran father scattered his DNA a little wider than you thought, not stare at some big lizard. It looks like an over-sized, stretched out Orloni, or something. A hungry one. What's so amazing about that?"
Peter grinned down at the short, furry presence at his side. "It's not a lizard, or any kind of Orloni—it's a dinosaur, Rocket. A freaking velociraptor."
Rocket gave him a disgusted look, hand-paws on the hips of his tiny Ravager-designed uniform. "Yeah? So, it's a velociraptor. What's so great about a velociraptor?"
"I am Groot," the infant Flora Colossus at Rocket's side agreed.
"What's so-- how can you even-- it's a dinosaur," Peter sputtered, throwing up his arms. He'd agreed to bring Rocket and Groot with him while Drax and Gamora liaised back in New York both as back-up and to prevent the tiny bounty hunter from starting shit with the Avengers when someone inevitably compared him to a raccoon or insulted his regrowing friend, but he was starting to wish he'd left them behind anyway. They were seriously harshing his elated mood.
"A sixty-five million-year-old killing machine that would probably be ruling the planet today, if an asteroid hadn't hit the Earth and wiped 'em all out to clear the way for mammals. I read all about 'em as a kid. And yeah, I know, that might not seem like much compared to something like Knowhere or one of the Infinity Stones, but come on. When I was growing up, this was like every kid's dream. If I'd known Terrans were capable of things like this I might've been more interested in coming back a long time ago."
"Wow. I don't even know which part of that to tackle first."
Rocket had opened his mouth, but it wasn't his voice that had replied. Baby Groot bristled up, tiny vines sprouting at the ready from his arms as all three of them spun around, and....
"Wow yourself," Peter blurted, staring at the guy who really was his double. No wonder Stark's computer algorithms had confused the two of them when the Milano had first arrived. He looked almost exactly like what Peter saw in the mirror every morning-- apart, of course, from Peter's much cooler sense of style. He was in his Ravager leathers, fully equipped except for his empty holsters-- the Avengers had been surprisingly hypocritical about letting him carry around advanced personal weaponry, though what they didn't know about what he kept in his pockets wouldn't hurt them-- while his look-alike was clad in what looked like dark khakis paired with a blue button-up shirt and a vest of all things. "Were you always this devastatingly handsome?"
Rocket snorted, briefly drawing the guy's wide-eyed attention, but then he shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. "You're that guy, aren't you?" he replied. "The one that got me arrested and stuck in a Costa Rican jail for a couple days last week? I think I get it now, by the way. Wow."
"You said that already," Peter smirked. "You also said something about tackling me?"
That drew a chuckle out of his double, and he shook his head, smiling wryly. "If this is what Claire means when she accuses me of thinking I'm charming, I think I get that now, too. Sorry, I don't grapple with anyone I haven't been introduced to, Mister...?"
"They didn't tell you my name? Peter Quill," Peter's grin widened, and he held out a hand. "Better known in some sectors of the galaxy as Star-Lord."
"I just bet you are. Owen Grady," the guy replied dryly, shaking his hand firmly. His calluses were slightly different than Peter's, but they seemed to have about equal grip strength-- which was interesting considering that Peter hadn't even realized until his return to Earth that he wasn't exactly human-standard in that area, among others. "Better known in some sectors of the park as the Alpha Velociraptor."
"Seriously?" Peter replied, delighted, with a glance over toward the dinosaur in the enclosure. It was still staring at them, head swiveling between him and Grady, and it had a pack of littler ones milling around it now: four juveniles about a third the size of the adult.
"Seriously," Grady replied, eyeing him back with curiosity. "Galaxy?"
"Seriously?!" Rocket interrupted, glaring at both of them. "I thought you were here to ask useful questions, not stand around staring at lizards and flirting with yourself."
"Rocket...." Peter rolled his eyes at him.
"Anyway, have fun with that-- I'm going back to the ship, unless you still think you might need back up here. This place gives me the heebie-jeebies anyway." The little guy gave an evocative shudder.
Peter belatedly remembered the whole experimented-on thing, and winced, waving a hand at him. "Yeah, sure-- might be a good idea for you to check out that online gaming thing Stark was talking about anyway; he gave us the protocols to connect our comm system to their networks, right? Pad our account with some extra units, since I don't think our primary mission here's going to turn out to be all that profitable."
Baby Groot glanced between Peter and his furry friend, patting a viny hand on Rocket's shoulder. "I am Groot," he commented in supportive tones.
"Right, yeah, good idea," Rocket waved a paw at him, then nodded at Grady. "Nice to meet you, not-Quill; well, not really, but it was interesting, anyway."
"...Yeah, I think interesting is... definitely the right word for it," Grady replied, a little awkwardly, as Rocket turned and trotted away; but surprisingly calm, from a guy who lived on a planet that hadn't even thought aliens were real until Thanos' first army arrived a few years back.
But then... he lived and worked every day with dinosaurs, didn't he? Peter still wasn't over that, himself. Freaking dinosaurs.
"Nah, what you really mean is trippy as all hell. Should've seen me, when I saw my first alien up close. I was like ten at the time, and if I was expecting anything, I was expecting ET or maybe Flight of the Navigator, you know?"
Grady swallowed, but answered gamely, as quickly as Peter would have; seriously, if they weren't related, Peter was going to be surprised. Though now he had even more questions about his 'ancient alien' angel-whatever sperm donor than ever; what the hell had he been doing on Earth, anyway?
"Like ten? You don't remember it any more closely than that? Because I remember exactly how old I was when the T-Rex from the first park got loose in San Diego; it kinda shaped the whole course of the rest of my life. Guess I got one up on you there-- one more I mean."
"You wish," Peter retorted. "I was being conversational! And what do you mean, more?"
"I'll give you a pass because you were clearly quoting something you haven't read in however long it's been since you were 'like ten'; but it's been seventy-five million years since these particular beasties walked the Earth, not sixty-five. And we've actually had them, in one form or another, for more than twenty years; how far out there were you that you never heard of the original Jurassic Park?"
"Pretty damn far; you have no idea," Peter replied, shaking his head. "I'm not really supposed to talk about it, but given the, you know," he gestured between their faces, "and the whole identity confusion thing, I thought you kinda deserved to know why you'd been arrested...."
Grady caught him throwing another glance toward the enclosure again at that, and chuckled. "Plus, you wanted to see my dinosaurs?"
"Hell yeah, I wanted to see your dinosaurs," Peter snorted. "I used to watch reruns of that Land of the Lost TV show as a kid; I was so disappointed when I found out that even the most technologically advanced alien empires out there don't do time travel. But here they are anyway-- and I didn't even have to go to a parallel universe to see them!"
"You know they rebooted that into a cheesy movie eight or nine years ago?" Grady raised an eyebrow.
"You're kidding me," Peter blinked. Everyone had been so quick to tell him about the new Star Wars movies and Indiana Jones and Star Trek and all the other favorites of his childhood remade, and they'd forgot to mention that? "Wait, let me get my list...." He patted down his pockets for the little spiral notebook and pen he'd taken to carrying around so he didn't miss anything important before they left the planet again. Movie nights on the Milano were definitely going to have to be a thing.
"Says the guy who's lived with aliens for the last however long," Grady shook his head. Then he brightened, gesturing toward a set of stairs leading up the enclosure's wall. "I can't take you into the cage, because no matter what you look like Blue'll know you're not me, and she's awfully protective of her little sisters. But if you want to take a closer look from above...."
"Now you're speaking my language," Peter enthused, tucking the notebook away again.
Grady laughed and turned to lead the way. "Speaking of, well, speaking. Was that a raccoon? And a sentient tree?"
"Oh, believe me, those aren't even close to the weirdest things I've ever seen...."