Steve got off the elevator on the thirteenth floor and looked around skeptically. He didn't think he'd ever been on this floor of Stark Tower before, and he wasn't sure why he was here now. Well, he knew why; he'd received an urgent call on his Avenger's ComCard - a message from Tony asking any available Avengers to come to room 1330 immediately. The ComCards had holographic video, so he had seen Tony in the message. The other man had seemed calm and unhurried, but was obviously occupied with something important. Tony had been looking away from the microcamera in his own ComCard as he spoke - a posture that was very familiar to Steve. Tony often couldn't be bothered to set down machinery he was tinkering with long enough to answer a call or even say hello.
But Tony didn't joke about needing help, so Steve had instantly shut off the training program in the playroom and gotten on the nearest elevator.
Steve glanced at the first door he passed, looking for a number. A small plaque by the door read Honeoye Conference Room and was numbered 1322. The next room was the Hudson Conference Room, number 1323. Good, he was going in the right direction. He also realized why he had never been on this floor before; the Avengers had their own conference room and never used Stark Industies' space. Despite sharing a home with SI offices, the Avengers managed to keep out of the business's hair and vice versa. Some days he half-suspected that Tony used dark magic to keep the business people from running into the Avengers. But of course that was ridiculous; Tony hated magic. Some kind of portal-creating technology was more likely.
He reached room 1330 - Bluebird Hall. The door was open, and Steve glanced in before entering. The room was quite large with a high ceiling and plain white walls. About two-thirds of the room had carpet in a tan color that had surely been designed to be as forgettable as possible, while the remaining third had a raised, white plastic-looking floor. That same end of the room had a huge flatscreen on the wall, and as soon as Steve had ascertained Tony's presence and safety, that screen was what caught his attention.
Staring out from the screen was an alien of a species Steve was certain he had never seen before. It had a vaguely fish-like look with large eyes, short whiskers coming out from its pointed snout, and a frilly crest that ran across the top of its head like a smooth, translucent mohawk. It had blue skin that was becoming more purple as Steve watched.
"First contact?" Steve asked Tony as he made his way to his friend. Tony was sitting at the lone table in the room, his laptop open in front of him. There were several cords running from the laptop to some kind of computer access panel on the wall. Tony looked up and smiled, but he didn't stop typing. "Yeah. I got the call in my workshop, but I've run into a communication problem. A tiny hiccup, really, but it was necessary to transfer the call up here. Oh, and you don't need to be Captain Ambassador yet; I've got 'em on hold."
"Please tell me you aren't using the hold music Peter downloaded."
"No, no. Nothing but the finest Muzak for our new friends."
Steve sighed. The Avengers weren't really trained to deal with first contact. They couldn't help it that aliens who were visiting Earth for the first time chose to check-in with them. Seeing as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four handled more first contacts than anyone else, it seemed that aliens looked for the people with the most advanced technology before landing. Of course, the third most popular check-in point for aliens was a small diner in Osseo, Wisconsin, so apparently they also looked for the people with the best pie.
If Earth could somehow set up an intergalactic check-in desk, then there could be standard procedure for first contact. Things would probably run smoother, and Steve wouldn't have to worry about a repeat of the 'Cotton Eye Joe' incidint. They'd had to ban Peter from changing Avenger's hold music, ringtones, and doorbell chimes after that disaster.
"A communication problem." Steve repeated Tony's words. "Is the translator broken?"
"No, that's working fine. It only took six minutes to translate the Wik's language to English, actually." He patted the machine fondly, then gestured to the alien - the Wik, apparently, or maybe Wikite. Wikian? - on the screen. It's skin was now a deep purple. "We've been able to understand each other well enough to exchange names and make small talk."
"So what's the problem?"
"I'm sure you've noticed by now that the Wik can change color."
"It is hard to miss."
Tony grinned at him. "Well, it turns out they use color as a supplement to their language, in the same way we humans use facial expressions and tone of voice."
"Sort of like a..." Steve paused to remember the name of the trinket the Hulk had won at the county fair last summer, "mood ring?" Steve had been taken by the ring's shifting colors and it's unerring accuracy. It had turned a deep black before snapping off of Banner's growing finger, never to be worn again.
"Something like that. Although the Wik's have control over what color they become."
"It sounds like you understand them very well. I still don't see the problem."
Tony shrugged, his fingers pausing on the keyboard. "We've seen a lot of alien species. The Wik haven't. Or at least, they haven't interacted with many. I get the impression that they've watched a lot of other planets. They certainly have advanced audio-visual technology. But Kal'wik here says that they don't like to come out and say hi. We're a special exception. I think they really want to try our food. So while they've seen a lot of monochromatic species, they don't understand them. They assume that the people are... well, monotonous. I've tried explaining that humans use facial cues, but Kal'wik isn't getting it. It doesn't help that my skin tone apparently indicates biting sarcasm."
Steve winced. "I take it you have a solution, though?"
Speaking of facial cues, Tony's clearly said, Of course I have a solution. "The obvious solution is to modify the holographic-image inducers to change only color. Unfortunately, that would take at least three hours, and I don't want to subject our guests to that much smooth jazz. So I was thinking, as always, 'What Would My MIT Class Do?' which led me to remember the disco dance floor in this room used for company parties. Well, hypothetically used for company parties." He gave a sad sigh. "I installed this years ago and it's never been used. Disco really is as dead as everyone says it is."
Looking at the raised plastic floor skeptically, Steve asked, "You think the colored lights will work as a substitute?"
"The walls are designed to reflect the lights, so the person on the floor should change colors as the lights do. It would be really awkward for me to stand there, speak with the Wik, and run the LED lights, though, so I need you take over the ambassador duties."
Steve nodded as he jogged up to the dance floor. "And you know what the colors mean? You aren't going to accidentally color my words with, say, hostility?"
"Not unless you say something that sounds hostile. But I'm not worried; the Wik haven't yet said anything disparaging about baseball or apple pie." He winked at Steve. "I've got the basic colors down; enough to get by. I think I'll need more shades of purple when I fine-tune a program, though. They really seem to like purple."
It went smoothly from there. The Wik were pleasant enough, and they were clearly relieved to have the color-expressions. The only further issue arose when Tony decided that using different colored blocks at the same time would provide the most accurate expressions. Steve was delivering a short speech on Earth's different governments, the floor beneath him a chipper green. A block next to him suddenly lit up yellow. "I think your expression should be a little more complex," Tony muttered softly. "Steve, you're still too green. Put your right foot on yellow." Steve obliged. As he later answered some questions about Latveria, a red square lit up behind and to the left of him. "Move back a little," Tony commanded. "Put your left hand above the red."
Neither man heard as someone paused outside the room's door and then hurried away. The first contact went very well, and the Wik agreed to land their ship in three days and meet humans face-to-face.
Two hours later and several blocks away, Jan and Ororo were enjoying lunch together. They had bonded early on as the two female members of the Avengers, and it was their tradition to eat out together at least once a week. This week, however, Ororo had something important to discuss with Jan. Never being particularly subtle, Ororo told Jan what was bothering her as soon as they sat down.
"Jan, I'm concerned about your control of your powers."
After her initial surprise, Jan's eyes narrowed. "What? I have very good control."
Ororo nodded. Control and use of powers was always a sensitive subject among the Avengers. With the reputation 'World's Mightiest Heroes' to uphold, Avengers' took their personal track records seriously. "I know you do. But I think you could have even better control. For example, twice you have fallen from a great height while giant-sized, and shrunk down only at the very last second. A moment longer, and I would not have been able to catch you."
"Well, I can't change size while I'm unconscious."
"Yes, but could you train yourself to revert to normal size if you get knocked out? Do you feel you have any room to improve your control of your powers?"
"I do train," Jan said, somewhat hotly. "With you, with Cap, with Hank. Of course there's room for improvement, and that's why I train."
"You do combat training, mostly. You do not work on fine-tuning your powers. I want you to come on a retreat with me."
"Yes, out in the desert. I have found that spending some time away from distraction has done wonders for my control."
"That sounds kind of... rustic."
Ororo sighed. Jan would endure any conditions in the line of heroics, but the other woman knew she didn't like roughing it if there was no humanitarian reason to do so. "That is not the point. A week spent training together should help us both considerably."
"In fact I have reservations at a resort I have used in the past. The reservation starts next Friday. I know it is short notice, but..." Ororo shrugged, acting more nonchalant than she felt. It worried her that her closest friend had almost fallen to her death in front of her eyes. Twice. "If you have no plans, I don't see any reason to wait."
Jan bit her lip in thought. "Valentine's Day is this weekend. Don't you have plans with Thor?"
"We have plans later. My schedule is clear," she said firmly. Jan would not wriggle out of this.
"This just seems awfully sudden. What if I had plans?"
"But you do not, do you?"
"No..." Suddenly Jan snapped her fingers, and pointed at Ororo in excitement. "But Steve and Tony probably do, so we'll need to hold down the fort for them! I'm sorry Ororo, but you'll have to cancel, or reschedule..."
"You think both Steve and Tony have dates?" Ororo frowned as she took a sip of water; neither man had mentioned seeing anyone currently.
"No, no; they're dating each other." Jan leaned forward in her chair, resting her elbows on the table as she gave Ororo a smile. "When I got back to the tower after my morning jog, Jarvis told me that Tony was in a meeting room, and that he might need help with a project. But when I got to the room, I heard Steve with Tony and -" her voice dropped and Ororo leaned in closer, almost afraid to hear what dirty secret Jan was about to spill. "They were playing Twister."
Ororo coughed on her sip of water, surprised and confused. "Is that a euphemism?"
"No! I swear, I heard them playing Twister. You know, 'put your right hand on yellow'? The classic party game that no two platonic friends would be playing together by themselves? I mean, even if they are dating - and they must be - it's weird, but this is Steve and Tony we're talking about. They aren't going to have normal standards of foreplay."
"Maybe Tony was just teaching Steve how to play?"
"By themselves? And seriously, how many Twister-type parties does Steve go to? I think he's safely past the point where Twister will be a useful skill for him."
That was hard to argue with, but if Steve and Tony were dating, wouldn't Ororo have noticed? She gave Jan a hard look. "Are you making this up just to avoid going to a retreat with me?"
Jan held her hands up. "I'm telling the truth. I mean, if I were lying I'd come up with something more believable than Twister, right? You can't make this stuff up."
"No, I suppose not. Even if they do have plans for Valentine's Day, though, perhaps we have enough Avengers to cover four absences."
"Bruce doesn't like to lead, and neither does Logan. Peter would probably do fine, but he's still officially on medical leave for that radioactive slug bite. That leaves the new recruits."
Ororo sighed. "And they are probably not ready."
"Yeah. Oh, but I did run into Mrs. Cage today, and she told me Luke would love to come to lunch with us. Apparently this is one of his favorite restaurants. She's worried he's too shy to ask to join us. Do mind if the three of us eat together later this week?"
"I don't mind at all," Ororo said. In fact, perhaps she had spoken too soon about the new recruits. Luke was a very experienced superhero; perhaps after a lunch with him she could determine if he was okay with leading the Avengers for a weekend.
"It's an age-old conundrum, isn't it?" Tony mused as he looked through the ties at Macy's. "Wear an appropriate, tasteful tie and risk offending the aliens because the splash of color indicates boredom, or wear a monochromatic outfit with no tie and risk offending the press and government for dressing too casually at a first contact."
Steve laughed. "Don't worry, the modified image inducers will work fine, and you said yourself that the color of our clothing won't matter."
"It won't matter if the inducers work. But if they don't..."
"Tony Stark, playing it safe?" Steve shook his head. "What's this world coming to?"
"Oh, that reminds me," Tony patted his pockets until he found what he was looking for, and pulled out a small velvet box. "I have the inducer right here. All the control buttons are the same, but I wanted it to look less conspicuous, so I redesigned it." He held the box up to Steve and opened it for him to see.
Steve whistled as he pulled a fine silver watch from the box. It looked just like a normal watch until he looked closer at the face; instead of hour and minute hands it had a set of buttons. He slid it onto his wrist and smiled at Tony. "It fits perfectly. You didn't have to, you know."
"I wanted to. I want to do this right."
Neither of them noticed the woman watching them from beside a hat tree.
Two days later, three superheroes in civilian clothes entered a restaurant.
"Jan likes this restaurant because they don't serve gelato," Ororo told Luke as they sat at the table. Luke raised an eyebrow, so she added, "She believes gelato is evil."
"That's not true! I just don't like the texture."
"Yes, and that is why I was able to chase you with a bowl of it halfway across the tower."
Luke looked back at Jan, waiting for her response. Teasing Jan was more fun with a spectator, Ororo mused.
"Now that's just not fair. That was less than a week after we fought that gelatinous cube in the sewers." She turned to Luke. "We had gotten a call about an ex-AIM scientist releasing creations into the sewers. Ororo can fly, but I had to wade through that muck, so of course I was the one who stepped right into the Jello cube from hell."
"I pulled you out," Ororo said mildly.
"Not in time to save my boot, though," Jan countered, and they both smiled at the memory of Jan hoping through the sewer on one foot. Jan's ability to laugh at herself was one of Ororo's favorite things about her friend.
"So, uh, how often do you fight really crazy stuff like that?" Luke asked. "As compared to more traditional scum?"
Ororo smiled. It had only been a few weeks since Luke had joined the team, but he was fun and easy to get along with. He had certainly seemed cool and aloof when he had first fought along side them, but his mother's advice had been spot-on; Luke liked to fight criminals he could lecture. He had no taste for robots or time-traveling dinosaurs, but give him a supervillain he could pound with both his fists and his admonishments, and he was good to go. "I'd say about one-fourth of the time," she answered.
Jan nodded. "Higher on Thursdays, though. Those are especially weird."
"Speaking of weird," Luke said, "how is it that no one told me that Captain America and Iron Man are dating?"
Dammit, it was always right when she was taking a drink. "What?" She spluttered, as Jan smirked.
"Ha! I told you."
Luke suddenly looked unsure. It was an expression that didn't quite fit on him. "They are dating, aren't they?"
"I think so, but there are varying opinions," Jan replied. "What makes you think so?"
"My Ma saw them out shopping. She said Stark gave Cap a very nice watch, like it was an anniversary present, or an early Valentine's gift. And Stark said something to him about making him an honest man."
"Wow, that sounds serious!" Jan turned to Ororo. "It would be cruel to make them work on Valentine's Day, especially if Tony just proposed to Steve!"
"I just don't get how they hide it from the tabloids," Luke muttered. "Sue says hi to Namor and the papers go on about it for weeks."
"We don't even know for sure that they are dating." It sounded feeble, even to herself. Ororo sighed. "Why haven't they told any of us?"
"Maybe they have told some of us. Cap and Logan go way back, after all. Spider-Man and Tony spend some time in the labs together. No one likes to be the last ones to know, but maybe in this case we are."
Ororo considered that. It stung a little that Cap might not trust her implicitly. "Do you think I should talk to Steve and Tony about this?" she asked her companions.
There was a moment of silence. Finally Luke said, "Is it any of our business?"
"I'd agree, Luke, but maybe we ought to let them know they're slipping up. Hell, maybe they think we all know already. We might as well be on the same page."
Ororo nodded. "Then I will talk to them. I know they've both been busy preparing for the first-contact visit; I'll wait until that is over."
The Wik landed their ship on Stark Tower's landing pad at exactly the promised time. Steve welcomed the small party that disembarked. The image inducer was snug around his wrist and he himself was a crisp robin's egg blue. He and Kal'wik chatted aimibly as they headed to a conference room where Tony, the Mayor, and several UN officials waited.
Steve sat in the back with Tony as the UN took over the conversation. Tony leaned over and whispered to Steve. "I noticed that they seemed a bit lilac when they came in with you. What disappointed them?"
"The image inducers, actually. Kil'wik said that they really liked our expressions before, when we used the dance floor lights. I think it was like having the equivalent of a really strong accent. You made the inducers too well, Tony," Steve said with a soft chuckle. "It seems we're a bit more boring now."
"Ah well, we can still use the dance floor later, if the Wik are up for a party. And maybe Storm's team will be back from their mission by then. I'm not sure if I should feel bad for hogging all the fancy-dress Avengers work while half of the Avengers are out slugging MODOK. To be honest, right now I'd rather be beating up the big-brained baddie."
Steve leaned back in his chair, stretching his arm out behind Tony's shoulders. "I know the feeling. By the way, Storm said she had something to discuss with me. Any idea what that's about?"
Tony shrugged. "No, I can't think of anything."
Storm's team arrived back while the party was in full swing. Tony had been teaching Kil'wik how to do the Bus Stop when Steve got the call. Steve had been grateful for an excuse to leave the party.
He found Storm, Luke, Giant Girl and Tigra all unscathed in the Avenger's dining room. He anticipated a quick and easy debriefing, so he was surprised by Ororo's greeting of, "Captain, we need to talk."
He sat down at the table and looked at her expectantly. "Yes?"
If he didn't know better, he'd say she was blushing. "Well, I've heard from some people... that is, you and Tony have been talking about your relationship in public. And I do not know if you plan to make your relationship public, with the media..."
Luke interupted. "What she's trying to say is that if you're trying to keep this under wraps, you're doing a lousy job. If you want to see your names in one ugly-ass portmanteau on the cover of Superhuman Weekly, then keep doing what you're doing."
"Although what portmanteau could be worse than Thorm?" Jan asked under her breath.
Steve stared at them all. He was caught between disbelief and curiosity. What in the world could they have seen to give them the idea that he and Tony were dating? As usual in those kinds of situations, he went with tentative politeness. "Thank you..?"
"Not a problem," Jan said brightly. "In fact, Ororo and I postponed a training retreat so you and Tony could spend Valentine's together."
Steve frowned as Ororo uncharacteristically rolled her eyes. "I... um, appreciate that. But it's not an issue if you want to go, we-"
"Won't hear of it," Luke said firmly. "My mom says you and Stark are an adorable couple, by the way."
Steve frowned. He'd have to ask Tony to run some tests. There was possibly a mix-up with a mirror universe. "Thank you," he repeated. "But really, we don't have Valentine's plans."
"I know some great places," Tigra said helpfully. "It's not too late."
"But what about you?" Steve asked Ororo. "Don't you have any plans with Thor?"
Ororo smiled. "Yes, but we are celebrating Valentine's Day on the Rainbow Bridge, where calendar dates have no meaning."
"That does sound romantic, but..." Steve's paused, frowning yet again. "If the date has no meaning, what makes it a Valentines date?"
"The heart-shaped chocolates, I suppose. And... other things."
Tigra suddenly warmed to the topic. "Oh yes, guys put a little more effort into making... chocolates on V-Day."
"I agree. They slow down and take time with the preperation and presentation. The results are favorable."
"You've got to melt chocolate slowly, that's what I always say! Or one side gets burnt while the otherside goes uncooked." Tigra made a sad face. "No one wants that."
Jan and Ororo noded sympathetically while Jan patted Tigra on the shoulder. "Do I need to have a stern talk with your boyfriend?"
"I don't think they're talking about chocolate," Luke whispered to Steve.
"Me neither. I suggest retreat."
Tigra was shaking her head. "I don't want to scare off Jim."
"I'd only grow to my ten-foot height."
The men retreated.
Tony was alone in Bluebird Hall. He was sitting on the edge of the dance floor, which was strewn with empty plastic cups and plates. The party with the Wik had been wildly successful. Peter, who had joined in for a short while, had told Steve that, "The Wik are changing their ways. Now that they've delurked, their lurking days are over." Steve gathered that this was a good thing.
Steve sat down next to Tony. "Did you know that the other Avengers think we're dating?"
"Really? I wonder where they got that idea."
"Could be Tigra. We did hire her to spy on us, after all."
Tony shook his head, baffled. "No, we were careful. Well, it doesn't matter, does it? We were going to tell them anyway."
Steve put his arm around Tony's shoulders and pulled him against his chest, resting his head against Tony's head. "Yes. They've given us the weekend off, by the way. Anywhere you want to go?"
Tony hummed in thought. "Ororo mentioned a desert retreat to me that sounded nice."
"Isn't that rather more rustic than your usual choice?"
"Well, that's what I thought. But Ororo says this place has everything... a pool, sauna, state-of-the-art computers and a five-star chef."
"It sounds good to me."
"You know," Tony said with a content smile, "For a Thursday this hasn't been too weird."
"Not too weird at all," Steve agreed.